A thought-provoking new drama about child abuse, a festive musical melodrama based on the movie classic "It's a Wonderful Life," two productions of "A Christmas Carol" (see separate story on facing page) and an evening of musical vignettes from "Phantom of the Opera" and "Les Miserables" are among this week's theater highlights.

- DESERT STAR PLAYHOUSE in Murray is getting in the holiday spirit with its original production of "It's a Wonderful Life, or Winging in the Holidays," adapted by Brent Todd from Philip VanDoren Stern's short story, "The Greatest Gift," and the film "It's a Wonderful Life."The show, directed by Shawn Maxfield with musical direction by Val David Smithson, opens Friday, Nov. 23 (preview performance), and continues on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 7 p.m. through Jan. 5.

Additional nights may be added to the performance schedule if demand warrants.

Producer-proprietor Mike Todd notes that the playhouse is now providing free popcorn on the tables, along with a menu of pizza, fountain drinks and hand-dipped ice cream treats.

The DSP adaptation follows the warm-hearted story of George Bailey and his struggles to save the Bailey Building & Loan Co. and the entire community of Bedford Falls from the financial villainy of Henry Potter (Boo! Hiss!) and his spoiled, yet loyal, son Junior (more booing and hissing!).

The cast includes such Desert Star regulars as rubber-faced Gary Winterholler as beleagured George Bailey, Sharon Kenison (who also choreographed the show) as Mary, Eric Jensen as Uncle Billy, Alisa Harris as Violet Buxley, and JaNae Gibbs as Clarissa Oddbody, Angel 2nd Class. Also in the cast are Kevin Cottam, Bill Morey, Harlin Jones and Jacob and Kirsten Kenison.

Reservations are recommended. Call 266-7600. Individual reservations are held until 6:45 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children. Group rates are also available.

- MANY INAPPROPRIATE THINGS take place behind closed doors, and when audiences come to the premiere of "Blessing" at Brigham Young University this month and see a set composed exclusively of doors, they will get a clue regarding the play about to unfold.

The play concerns child abuse, specifically the mistreatment of a girl named Blessing. BYU drama professor Ivan Crosland is using BYU student Barry K. Gregory's script, a work that evolved from the drama department's Producer/Director/Actor workshop. It explores the issues of abuse in a way that Crosland says offers "interesting drama and characterization."

Scheduled to open Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m., additional evening performances will continue Tuesdays through Saturdays through Dec. 8 in the Margetts Arena Theatre. Also planned is a matinee Dec. 3 at 4 p.m. Tickets are available through the drama ticket office, 378-7447.

"As the play evolves," says Crosland, "you don't know anything is going on. For a little while, you still wonder if lies are being told or exactly what is being told. I think audiences will appreciate the experience as they get to know the individuals personally."

Crosland has taken an unusual approach with the play because he is staging it presentationally rather than realistically.

"The audience sees the actors sitting on the sidelines waiting to come on stage. In this way, they see them out of character," he explains. "I wanted to do it this way both to protect the actors and to keep reminding the audience that they are seeing a play."

The cast includes Hilary A. Russell, Connie E. Holt, C. Heywood Bagley, Scott Claflin,

Dean K.M. Jones, Monica Barth and Douglas E. Dahl.

- A FUND-RAISER for the preservation of Academy Square in Provo at 7 p.m. Monday evening, Nov. 19, will feature music from two of Broadway's hottest shows: "Les Miserables" and "Phantom of the Opera."

Fifty young people from the Provo area will present the concert in the Provo Tabernacle with the assistance of two members of the Utah Opera Company in Salt Lake City.

Narrators will be Myrth Burr and Georgia Faux, accompanied by Diane Stephenson.

There is no charge for admission, but donations will be accepted for the Academy Square preservation project.