Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is sort of like a theatrical Mr. Potato Head, with adaptors sticking new elements onto it to fit into various cultural motifs. And why not? Chuck is long dead and the story of redemption for Scrooge (picture Dick Cheney, but with a heart) is always a crowd pleaser.
In this take now at Karamu, with music by Garry Sherman, lyrics by Peter Udell and book by Philip Rose and Udell, the scene is urban and Scrooge is an African-American slumlord who is due for a comeuppance. That all works fine and there are some clever moments in the script, such as when a transformed Scrooge wants to buy food for the Cratchit family and the only places open are a Chinese restaurant and a Jewish deli.
The songs, however, are mostly forgettable, a fact that is not enhanced by some sketchy performances. At this performance, stand-in Miguel Osborne played Scrooge and he threw himself into the proceedings, although his vocals went flat fairly often. Jacqueline Lockett tears it up a bit as Sister Hopkins, and Glenn Burchette as Christmas Future generates some laughs as the Little Richard-inspired character flouncing through his Act 2 numbers.
Director Richard H. Morris Jr. manages the large cast well, but allows a plethora of slow patches to slacken the pace of the show.
Christmas Is Comin' Uptown, at Karamu House through Dec. 29, 2355 East 89th St., 216-795-7077, karamuhouse.org.