Steele’s proprietorial demeanour is understandable. He has after all - as a plaque erected in the Palladium’s foyer earlier this year confirms - performed more times at this address than anyone else. Prior to Scrooge, Steele had clocked up 1,767 Palladium performances in total, 1,088 of them for his last musical (Singin’ in the Rain, during two runs) alone.
While, with its limited season, Scrooge won’t come anywhere close to that, Steele doesn’t attack the role with any less zest. His Ebenezer, gnarled and stooped, is amusingly misanthropic before he quaffs the milk of human kindness and, given his age (Steele turns 69 during this run), surprisingly spry throughout.
Steele is given solid support by a large and enthusiastic cast that includes Glyn Kerslake as Bob Cratchit, Barry Howard (of Hi-De-Hi renown) as Jacob Marley, Gemma Page as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Tom Solomon as young Ebenezer and nephew Harry, and a rotating team of children including an adorable Tiny Tim (Laurence Belcher on press night) who will tug unashamedly at your heart strings.
As for the musical, well despite a shared source in Dickens, Leslie Bricusse is no Lionel Bart, and Scrooge is not a patch on Oliver! However, it is inoffensive, untaxing fun, with a few catchy if largely unmemorable tunes, and Bob Thomson’s bustling production, played out on Paul Farnsworth ramshackle Victorian London set, fills the vast Palladium stage well. And, of course, the story is a real Christmas cracker.
- Terri Paddock
NOTE: The following FIVE-STAR review dates from December 2004 and an earlier run of this production.
Manchester has a plethora of excellent Christmas productions this season. I recently laughed my way through Round the Horne…Revisited and thought it was the best - until I saw this magical musical version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Leslie Bricusse's delightful adaptation, once again starring the indefatigable Tommy Steele, has gained critical acclaim on previous tours, and I can’t see its popularity waning now.
Steele plays Mr Scrooge, the miserly old grouch who detests the season of goodwill and everything it stands for. He works all hours and begrudges anyone having a good time, a grumpiness perfectly summed up as Steele belts out the delicious ditty "I Hate Christmas". Though Scrooge detests the idea, his much put-upon assistant Bob Cratchit (Robin Armstrong) wants to spend Christmas Day with his family. Will the old miser change his ways or remain miserable?
Before curtain up, I half-assumed this production would be sickly sweet and full of badly executed moralistic scenes. Bob Tomson avoids some of these obvious pitfalls via his spirited direction. Every member of the cast has much more to do than stand in awe of Steele. Many of them, including Gemma Page's Ghost of Christmas Past and Samuel James' Harry, have wonderfully rich vocals and commanding stage presence. Steele himself gives a virtuoso performance, hitting all the right notes and moving you to tears with his emotive acting. Slapstick comedy is also a forte - his is a fully rounded turn of real depth and clarity.
Paul Farnsworth's set takes the audience right back to the 18th century with the shop fronts, old style kitchens and smoky cold atmospheres, and is enhanced by some ingenious special effects care of illusionist Paul Kieve.
In Bricusse’s score, every song’s a winner, driving the narrative forward. Each also succeeds in getting your toes tapping, tears flowing or belly laughing, as required, though in terms of audience participation, "Thank You Very Much" and "The Milk of Human Kindness" are particular standouts.
This heartfelt musical is much more than just feel-good theatre. Even the most cynical will be compelled to share Scrooge’s newfound sentiments by the end and will leave the theatre feeling blinkin' brilliant. To Mr Steele and the rest of the excellent company: "Thank You Very Much" for five-star musical magic. A Christmas cracker for sure!
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Manchester)
NOTE: The following FIVE-STAR review dates from October 2003 and an earlier run of this production.
Probably his best-loved novel, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been turned into plays, films and a musical, to the extent that the story itself seems totally engrained in the collective conscience.
One Christmas Eve, the misanthropic Ebenezer Scrooge - for whom the season of goodwill is the worst time of year - is called on by the ghost of his late business partner Jacob Marley, who warns him to change his ways. Visits follow from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Future and Christmas Yet to Come, each imparting their own lessons until Scrooge is transformed, his Christmas spirit restored.
Tommy Steele has returned to the stage to lead this new Bill Kenwright touring production of Leslie Bricusse musical Scrooge. In his long career, Steele has topped the pop charts, appeared in numerous films and stage musicals and danced with co-stars ranging from Fred Astaire to an alligator, and he has evolved into a true family favourite entertainer through and through.
Even if, for some reason, you didn't know the Christmas Carol story, you'd still know from curtain-up that a happy ending is inevitable here, as playing "nasty" is clearly not in this performer's repertoire. Despite Steele's best efforts, his Scrooge starts to metamorphose too early - it seems he just can't help but convey his naturally pleasant nature.
As Marley, Barry Howard (best known as the ballroom champion on TVs Hi De Hi) has more success, achieving the correct mixture of comic and fright-filled moments, and the rest of the cast work hard to ensure this is a show full of life.
While director Bob Tomson keeps things cracking along at a good pace, it's Lisa Kent's choreography that really makes the show look fresh, drawing the best out of an excellent and very strong ensemble. The chorus numbers are a joy to watch. A nod, too, to Paul Farnsworth's designs, which provide plenty of surprises and illusions to keep the audience entertained, especially in Act One.
Niggles aside, this Scrooge is pure family entertainment from overture to final curtain. You and yours will certainly leave the theatre on a high.
- John Dixon (reviewed at Theatre Royal Newcastle)