Like an old-fashioned Christmas card bursting into song, Scrooge the Musical captures quite wonderfully the visual delights of a traditional festive scene. This seasonal fare from Curve brings Victorian carousels, clockwork toys and wide-eyed children so vividly into view it is as though we are there: December 1843 and the England inhabited by Scrooge.
In fact, as good as Jasper Britton is as old Ebenezer, the miser who gets what’s coming to him, parts of the production design outshine even the twinkliest of Christmas lights – and none more so than in Michael Taylor’s extraordinary set.
Curve’s extra-large stage is channelled here to great effect. Providing the focal point is a glorious back-street setting, framed by a mighty archway and a bridge some 12ft high, and memorably packed with detail like fairground posters pinned to the wall and gentlemen’s night-shirts hanging out to dry.
But Scrooge is about people, not brickwork, and Charles Dickens‘s A Christmas Carol, on which the musical is based, is arguably as relevant now as it was at the time of writing some 175 years ago. Scrooge screws people over. Blame it on a difficult childhood if you like, he’s squeezing people for every penny and there’s no stopping him. Money before morals, only an encounter with the ghost of his dead business partner Marley (Karen Mann) can set him towards a period of reflection, a chance to make amends.
For all its good intention – and an objective to entertain families at Christmas spiced up with universal themes of redemption and hope is truly valid – Scrooge the source material is, if it’s not too miserly to suggest, not quite on the money.
Nikolai Foster‘s production goes to great lengths to prove otherwise – it’s big and loud, full of tricks and surprises; dance moves pack a punch and complex crowd scenes are beautifully managed – but ultimately it can’t conceal what is a disappointing score.
Leslie Bricusse has enjoyed an exceptional career in theatreland and in Hollywood, winning two Oscars and a Grammy award among others, yet – with "Thank You Very Much" to one side – his tunes are never quite as good as you want them to be. "I’ll Begin Again" and "I Like Life" partly provide the answer but really, only in part.
While Ebenezer Scrooge’s 'journey' sadly seems derivative of one of those horrible eight o’clock shows on Channel 5, it’s deceptively powerful, too, all the more frustrating that a great song can’t be found to do the old boy justice. Bah!
Albert Finney played Scrooge in the original 1970 film version, making way for Anthony Newley who brought the character to life in its theatrical premiere 22 years later. Tommy Steele and Shane Richie have been most associated with the role in recent years. Britton as Scrooge, from his absolute fear at the prospect of his own death made in hell to a longing for happiness now gone, to the moment of ad-libbing when he drops a bag of money, shows an actor at the top of his game. He is well-supported by Joe Maxwell and Lara Denning as the Cratchits.
Some scenes in what is a jolly family spectacle, do feel a tad sluggish and a few minutes shaved off would do nobody any harm. Saving time, you see, not just money.
Scrooge the Musical will put a smile on the faces of thousands of people this winter. But don’t expect a show on Christmas Day! Seemingly a day off. Whatever next.
Scrooge the Musical runs at Curve, Leicester until 7 January.