Chain-clanking ghosts, sparkling apparitions and much more await audiences attending Center Rep's production of "A Christmas Carol."

Running through Dec. 16 at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts, the show adds plenty of glittering special affects to the cold, gray world inhabited by the denizens of Dickens' London.

"I love what designer Kelly Tighe has done to the set," says Richard James, who along with Cynthia Caywood adapted the show many years ago. "And Mark Anderson Phillips as Scrooge is just as I originally envisioned the character."

Phillips, in his first time as the curmudgeonly old man, adds an understated honesty to this character that is too often overdone. In fact, director Scott Denison enhances his already fine cast with several new actors for this production, including Maggie Mason (a nuanced Mrs. Cratchit); Tim Homsley (a lively Mr. Boxer/Snuffbox/Pip); Ginny Wehrmeister (a lovely Lavinia); Jeff Draper (marvelous as Marley/Topper/Old Joe); and 7-year-old Brady Wright (Tiny Tim). Returning to add new touches to their already marvelous portrayals are:Scott Strain and Jeanine Perasso (Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig); Joel Roster (Fred Hastings), Michael Wiles (Bob Cratchit) and Michael Ray Wisely (Ghost of Christmas Present). Kerri Shawn also returns to the cast, but this year she plays the Ghost of Christmas Past with a shimmering intensity.

As usual, Denison has added new special effects to dazzle audience members of all ages while maintaining the gritty atmosphere both Dickens and James intended. For tickets, call 925-943-SHOW or go to www.lesherartscenter.org.

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    For a slightly different take on the Dickens' classic, try Butterfield 8's world-premiere adaptation by Maureen-Theresa Williams. Directed by John Butterfield, this staged reading uses only the original text to paint a verbal picture of Charles Dickens' London.

    The cast features Deborah Black, Jeremy Tribe Gallardo, Julia McArthur, Peter McArthur, Ross Murray, Gary Mutz, Annie Potter, Becky Potter and Donald L. Hardy as Scrooge.

    It performs one night only -- Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. at Cue Productions Live in Concord. For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or go to www.b8company.com.

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    Samantha Samuels and Steven Shore of Esses Productions are doing their part to keep the holidays bright with a performance by Broadway star Jeri Sager at the Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave. in Pleasanton.

    The star of "Cats" and "Fiddler on the Roof" presents "A Veri Jeri Christmas" on Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. The family-friendly show features Sager's own unique twist to such holiday classics as "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "Joy to the World" and fun songs like "Mr. Grinch."

    For tickets, call 925-931-4848 or go to www.firehousearts.org.

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    You never know what a chance encounter will lead to. In the case of Lafayette songstress Nicki Bluhm, it led to marriage (Tim Bluhm of The Mother Hips) and the birth of Nicki Bluhm and the Gamblers.

    The vintage-tinged country rock band just finished a wildly successful North American tour and are set for a tour of Florida, the Southeast and beyond in early 2013. In the meantime, the band returns to Lafayette's Town Hall Theatre for a Dec. 20 and 23 concerts of original music plus holiday classics before joining The Mother Hips at Chico's El Rey Theatre to ring in the New Year.

    For tickets to the Dec. 20 concert (Dec. 23 is already sold out), go to www.townhalltheatre.com.

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    Vagabond Players will audition for Agatha Christie's "The Unexpected Guest" on Jan. 6 at 2 p.m. at the El Campanil Theatre, 602 W. Second St. in Antioch.

    There are parts for six males and three females. Actors should prepare a two-minute monologue and bring a resume and headshot. Rehearsals begin Jan. 14 and the production runs Feb. 22- Mar. 24.

    For more information, email the director Sharon Redman at sundownca@aol.com.

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    Pittsburg Community Theatre is also auditioning for an upcoming production. Auditions for "A Case of Libel" take place Dec. 17 and 18 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Pittsburg Presbyterian Church, 200 E. Leland Road in Pittsburg.

    The cast calls for eight men and eight women with three parts that can be played by either. The production runs March 1-10. For more information, go to www.pittsburgcommunitytheatre.org.

    Contact Sally Hogarty at sallyhogarty@gmail.com.