Friday, 23 December 2016

Review A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol
Based on the story by Charles Dickens
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Book by Mike Okrent and Lynn Ahrens

Charles Dickens' Ghostbuster

It was out with the fob watch and top hat (and that's only for TLT's automotive theatrical sidekick ...) for that piece of rich seasonal figgy pudding that is A Christmas Carol, this time in a 1994 version of the festive classic.

None can doubt the pedigree of this musical from the pens of composer Alan Menken (Disney's Beauty and The Beast and The Little Mermaid plus The Little Shop Of Horrors), lyricist Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime and Seussical). Their version of the 1843 Dickens' short story A Christmas Carol, with book by Mike Okrent and Lynn Ahrens, is crisp and clear

Just in case you don't know the story ... moneylender Ebenezer Scrooge has long left behind any charitable instincts and has become a miserable, miserly, wifeless skinflint who hates Christmas. Mainly because it interrupts his business and forces him to pay his staff of - oh, at least - two for a day off work. All of which causes Scrooge to coin an expression about the festive season which famously gives boiled sweets a bad name.

Anyway his clerk, poverty-stricken Mr Cratchitt, and Scrooge's nephew Fred each determine to respect the spirit of the season with their familes, including Mr Cratchitt's sickly son Tiny Tim (Arthur Tidbury), despite an employer and uncle who refuses to partake in the festivities and show an ounce of kindness. That is, until Scrooge's past, present and future come literally to haunt him ...

With a mix of young and emerging actors, this lively if uneven production is co-directed by Martin John Bristow and Mark Magill with Piers Garnham's Scrooge as more of a Everyman miser, a stockbroker whose tightwad ways seem more of an executive decision. 

There is some interesting talent on display - our eye and ear first caught like Scrooge by Richard Lounds. As ghostly Jacob Marley, he gives a confident and compelling rendition of the torment his business partner in life is building up for himself in "Link By Link" .

The show itself, while pleasant and entertaining, isn't the most inspired piece in the writers' catalogue. However this production was given some magic by director Bristow's imaginative lighting design which lifted the sometimes clunky staging and erratic recorded accompanying music sound levels.

With some outstanding voices in the cast, the latter proved rather a bugbear. But the soaring vocals of  Katrina Winters as Christmas Past still made themselves known, alongside good work by Toby Joyce's cheery Bob Cratchitt, a very promising musical theatre debut by Joe Brown as Young Ebeneezer and a winsome nephew Fred Anderson from Alasdair Melrose. Young Ella Tidbury as debtor's daughter Grace Smythe and Fan Scrooge also turned in a quality debut performance which succeeded in overcoming the technical difficulties.   

The costuming (James Thacker and Mark Magill) takes its cue from the cartoonish poster with the young Scrooge in elongated hat and his erstwhile employer's wife Mrs Fezziwig's dress being a particularly inventive piece of design.

So there's a lot to enjoy in this seasonal production, even if the sound level problems did prove frustrating, often giving only glimpses of the talented cast's range. Nevertheless, with a welcoming communal feel in the auditorium overcoming any TLT humbugness, it's a lemon sherbert amber light and Happy Holidays to one and all! :) 

 *"Bah," said Scrooge, "Humbug."

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