Christmas Carol,' 'Slavs!' Fall Short in New York

A Christmas Carol

At the Paramount (Madison Square Garden) through Jan. 1.

The people behind the new version of ''A Christmas Carol,'' which is aiming to be the New York holiday attraction, have made every effort to bring the audience into the action.

The scenery rises up the sides of the auditorium, engulfing spectators in a recreation of 19th-century London. Cast members parade up and down the aisles, occasionally stopping to chat. Toward the end, Scrooge himself flies overhead. At one point, it ''snows'' on the audience. When Scrooge has his reformation, the cast even hands out gifts to the children in attendance.

Despite all of this, the show remains unengaging on a deeper level. This production, featuring a huge cast, has every element it can muster, including a mini-version of the Rockettes, but it tries so hard to wow the audience that it falls short on emotion.

Tremendous talent is involved, including Alan Menken (music), Lynn Ahrens (lyrics & book), Mike Ockrent (book), Tony Walton (sets), and Susan Stroman (choreography). Walton's sets are particularly dazzling, giving the show a much-needed warmth. But the story is told in a relentless whiz-bang musical fashion.

Highlights include one true show-stopper, ''Link by Link,'' in which ghouls and goblins demonstrate to Scrooge the error of his ways. ''Christmas Together'' is lovely, and the rest of the score, although not particularly memorable, is serviceable.

There are several veteran performers onstage, including Robert Westenberg as Fred and Walter Charles as Scrooge, but their valiant efforts are barely noticed amid the bustling scenery.

Slavs! (Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness)

At the New York Theatre Workshop.

After productions in Louisville and Chicago, Tony Kushner's play ''Slavs!'' has finally opened in New York. Despite reworking by the playwright, and better acting than ever, this slight one-act is still a disappointment.

The play has been expanded somewhat, but it is still a fantastical journey through the Soviet Union during the first stirrings of perestroika. Originally written as part of his epic ''Angels in America,'' it contains three scenes with overlapping characters. These are set in the Politburo; in a secret chamber beneath Lenin's Tomb in which the brains of Soviet leaders are stored; and in a medical facility in a radioactive-disposal site in Siberia.

Kushner manages to combine buffoonery with serious political and philosophical arguments, but the absurdist elements, so liberating in ''Angels,'' prove numbing here. The play is lavishly produced by Lisa Peterson, and its first-rate cast includes film actress Marisa Tomei and stage and screen veteran Joseph Wiseman.

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