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‘Twist Your Dickens’ less than a Victorian pudding

Charles Dickens, ever the entrepreneur, would certainly have understand The Second City’s desire to get a piece of the holiday cash box action that is “A Christmas Carol” — a story now told in countless variations, from traditional to hip-hop.

But here’s the great irony of its satirical sendup, “Twist Your Dickens, or Scrooge You!,” now playing on the Goodman Theatre’s Owen stage, just across the lobby from the Goodman’s long-established mainstage adaptation: The classic version is often a whole lot funnier than this parody written by Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort, and directed by Matt Hovde.


Somewhat recommended

When: Through Jan. 3

Where: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn

Tickets: $25-$61

Info: (312) 443-3800;

Run time: 2 hours, with one intermission

To be sure, it’s great fun to watch Steppenwolf veteran Francis Guinan scrunch up his face, wiggle his bum and play a bit of the improv game as Ebenezer Scrooge, although I wish he had been given more to do, and that his transformation from miser to philanthropist had been more fully developed. (“Do you think Larry Yando has to put up with this?,” he quips at one point, referencing the superb actor who has played Scrooge for years on the mainstage.)

And there are a few truly clever bits along the way: A pair of Dickensian-style barristers advertising their success with personal injury cases; a rally by various orphan characters, from Dickens’ novels and beyond, who are determined to establish an orphans’ union (with a young Oliver Twist proclaiming he wants control over his secret fortune now); a send-up of the animated television classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” with the giant cardboard cutout characters chiding Linus for his heavily Christian (rather than pan-religious) sentiments; the heckler who continually criticizes the production for its lack of Victorian authenticity.

But the two-hour show (with a handsome painted curtain and sets by Tom Buderwitz) would have been far better with a one-hour running time. The segment in which the ghost of Jacob Marley arrives in paper chains made from notes penned by audience members asked to describe their most heinous deeds goes on far too long. So do the heavy-handed visits of the three ghosts (with a series of pop culture flashbacks as a 20th century family gathers in the living room on Christmas morning). The scene in which a sloshed diva attempts to record a Christmas album (“Police Navidad” is the best title) also outlasts its laughs. And the gathering of the sick and the lame at the home of the Cratchits is reminiscent of a cringe-inducing Jerry Lewis Telethon.

In addition to Guinan (to be replaced by Brian Boland for all performances starting Dec. 26), the seven-member cast includes Gwinn, Frank Caeti, Sayjal Joshi, Beth Melewski, Robyn Scott and Tim Stoltenberg. A cameo appearance by a “celebrity guest” (I saw hip-hop artist Che Smith aka “Rhymefest”) is part of each show.

Call me Scrooge, but this show is an overstuffed turkey.