ANOTHER DECEMBER approaches, and since 1979, that has usually meant another go-round of "A Christmas Carol" at Ford's Theatre.
The holiday chestnut was temporarily shelved in 1984, when the set for the old production wore out. But it's back, and those who attend the first performance this Friday may well heave a sigh of relief: Ford's Theatre artistic director David Bell says he's retired the 10-foot puppets and saccharine songs and has written a new, "slightly more adult" adaptation.
"The fantasy of the original doesn't need to be improved upon," says Bell, adding that he will remain faithful to Dickens' story and keep Scrooge in his room on Christmas Eve. "And even though there's a lot of music in it, it's not a musical." Instead of interrupting the narrative for original songs, musical director Rob Bowman will work in traditional Christmas music. Scrooge will be played by Steven Crossly; the cast also includes Folger Theatre alumni Mikel Sarah Lambert and Jim Beard.
After Bell gets his "A Christmas Carol" up and running, he'll turn his attention to the musical version of "Elmer Gantry," which will open at Ford's in February. Bell says he originally intended to spruce up "Gantry," the 1970 Stanley Lebowsky-Fred Tobias musical version, which closed on Broadway after one night. So Bell brought in John Bishop, who wrote "The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940," to create a new book. "Then I realized I had a schizophrenic musical, a new book with old music," Bell says, so he tapped Mel Marvin ("Tintypes") to supply a few new songs, and Marvin obliged with a whole score.
"I began thinking about doing this show about two and a half years ago, before the time really became right," Bell says. "As you can imagine, any reluctance about the material vanished when Jim and Tammy came along."
Finding -- and hanging onto -- a suitable space has always been a problem for the area's small theaters. Now Touchstone Theatre is the latest to find itself hunting for a new home -- its Arlington theater is being demolished. Artistic director Michael Murphy says the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has purchased the property, located in the Virginia Square shopping center, and will begin construction on a national training center after the January demolition.
Touchstone is being released from the second year of its two-year lease, and because the uprooting meant the company couldn't complete its season, several hoped-for grants didn't come through.
"We've been dormant several times before, the longest time being 18 months," Murphy says. "I hope it's not going to be that long this time -- I'm going to miss directing." Murphy, who says she'd like to remain in Northern Virginia, but is considering a move to downtown D.C., says a theater is a natural magnet for restaurants and shops, and hopes theater-loving developers will look Touchstone up. (Murphy can be contacted at 1556 Bruton Court, McLean VA 22101.)
Bulletin Board: Arena Stage is one of 11 theater companies selected to share in more than $1 million in Ongoing Ensemble grants, designed to help strengthen resident ensemble companies. Arena receives $466,500, the largest grant; the other estimable troupes include American Repertory Theater, Mabou Mines, San Francisco Mime Troupe and The Wooster Group . . . Horizons Theater's successful musical revue "A . . . My Name Is Alice" has been extended through December 13. The very wonderful Sandra Bowie has left the cast; she's been replaced by the very wonderful club singer Beverly Cosham . . . Here's an interesting bio for actor Rob Roy, who plays sanitarium attendant Duane Wilson in "Harvey" at Woolly Mammoth: "His name is really Rob Roy, and no, his parents weren't bartenders; but he is considering changing his stage name to Glen Burnie. Rob plans to be married on December 31, but is keeping the date loose in case Harvey extends." Best wishes, Rob. By the way, actors usually write their own bios for playbills . . .
The playbill for "Aunt Dan and Lemon" at Baltimore's Center Stage comes with a four-page printed manifesto/meditation by the playwright, Wallace Shawn, called "Notes In Justification of Putting the Audience Through a Difficult Evening." The Center Stage production runs through December 6; Woolly Mammoth will do the controversial play in June as part of its summer repertory . . . On the block at Christie's auction house in New York: the 75-year-old Helen Hayes Theater, which is under consideration for landmark status. The theater has housed "The Subject Was Roses," "Beyond the Horizon" "Torch Song Trilogy" and currently, Larry Shue's "The Nerd"; the auction is March 24 . . . It seems theater is edging closer and closer to rock -- Jerry Garcia recently played a week on Broadway; on Sunday, theatergoers camped out overnight to buy tickets for the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "Phantom of the Opera," which opens at New York's Majestic Theater in January. A new one-day box office record was set . . . Paramount Pictures has bought the film rights to August Wilson's Pulitzer-winning play "Fences," reportedly at the urging of Eddie Murphy, who is keen on playing the part of Troy Maxson's son.