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A trio of plays open this week with three very different takes on the holidays 

Magic, mystery and monkeys

A musical chock-full of extra-special special effects. A holiday classic turned live radio show. And about 40 minutes of torture and interrogation, in the round. What more could you possibly want out of the Springs theater scene this December? (Eggnog and cookies? You'll get those too, pre-show at Springs Ensemble Theatre.)

Thursday marks the opening of three local stage productions, each of which is designed to entice and entertain in very distinct ways.

Oz-tacular

"We all know what the Wizard of Oz is, but I don't know that many of us have seen it live in three dimensions." That's Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center performing arts director Scott RC Levy on the FAC's 2½-hour "musical spectacle for the holiday season."

Nor have many of us seen it with added text from L. Frank Baum's original 1900 novel — the inspiration, Levy explains, for setting this production in the author's Art Nouveau time period. "Yes, there are ruby slippers. Yes, there are the flying monkeys. Yes, there is a scarecrow. But they may not look exactly like the movie because we're ... making our own thing."

There's also a real Cairn terrier playing Toto (two, actually, Ferghus and Mary from Manitou Springs), a "baker's dozen worth of munchkins" — mostly elementary or middle school students who top out at 5 feet tall — and a live orchestra that plays 50 musical numbers. Add in lots of in-house-produced video, smoke and a melting witch, and you've got, as Levy says, just a huge production with "a lot of magic."

No real monkeys, though.

"No, they're human beings dressed as monkeys," Levy says. "Yeah, no, the zoo didn't want to give us any monkeys."

A toast to George

TheatreWorks' script for It's a Wonderful Life drops five actors and one sound technician-slash-live pianist into a 1946 radio studio.

"Basically, George and Mary are George and Mary," director Geoffrey Kent says of the two main characters, "and the other three poor souls have to encapsulate every other person that lives in [Bedford Falls]."

Sounds like potential for chaos. And Kent admits it does get a little crazy, but explains that's somewhat inherent in taking a static medium like radio and turning it into a moving "stage picture" for the audience. He says he constantly has to remind himself while directing that people are coming to see this radio play, not listen to it.

Which is why it kind of makes sense to describe the Foley (aka the combination of tools used onstage to make manual sound effects) as an additional actor of sorts.

"What makes radio so interesting is, 'How do you do a car chase on radio?' We've certainly gone out of our way to highlight that aspect of the story ... use the sound effects and enjoy and laugh at them. ... But in the end also it's really the story of George Bailey, who's given the gift to see what the world would be like without him.

"One of the tricky things for directing It's a Wonderful Life is, it's also easy to make fun of the sentimentality of it. And I don't think that serves the piece at all. Our job is to make all those moments genuine."

Not-so-saintly Nicolas

When One for the Road director Sarah Shaver breaks out over the phone into the well-known and loved, yet Big Brother-ish, lyrics, "You better watch out, you better not cry," it makes perfect sense that the Springs Ensemble Theatre is putting on Harold Pinter's political 1984 comedy of menace during the holiday season.

"It's weird how we've been able to tie in some of this Christmas stuff into the play and into the production," she says, laughing. "The music choices are gonna juxtapose very nicely and deliciously with the horror of the piece."

And it is a torturous little piece. Three characters — a professor (played by Indy graphic designer Matt Radcliffe), his wife and their 7-year-old son — are taken into custody and interrogated by their government, represented by a man named Nicolas. They don't know what they've done wrong, nor does the audience.

The physical violence is implied, but never actually plays out onstage. And that's part of what drew Shaver to this piece. "Being able to take the piss and vinegar out of a person using words, and not even violence, is really interesting to me."

At about 40 minutes in length, and acted intimately in-the-round, "it's not that long of a play," Shaver says. "But that's long enough. I promise you it will be a full evening."

scene@csindy.com

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