Of all the stories crying out for sequels, Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol would not seem to be an obvious candidate. After miser Ebenezer Scrooge learns of the joys of giving, family, and the Christmas season, what more is there to say about him or the Cratchit family? Judging by the musical Tim and Scrooge at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, not much.
Bookwriter Nick Meglin postulates that, over a decade after the events of A Christmas Carol conclude, Tim (no longer Tiny) Cratchit approaches his 21st with two rites of passage in front of him: He's in love with a young girl named Allison, and will soon assume management of the Scrooge and Marley Counting House. Tim, however, is more interested in being a teacher than a money manager, and signs away control of the business to two sleazy speculators, beginning a series of events that threatens to tear him away from his family and Allison, unless the spirit of the long-deceased Scrooge can help him set things right again.
Amiable but mechanical, the show's story satisfies more as a new creation than as a follow-up to the venerable original. In place of Dickens's original richly drawn characters, Meglin's Cratchit family is mainly a group of comic sidekicks (one of Tim's brothers is a notorious womanizer, another is well-meaning but flustered, Tim's sister is a terrible baker), except for Bob Cratchit himself, who is now obsessed with money, and encourages Tim to put aside his other concerns in favor of financial well-being.
Were it not for the characters' names, this conventional and predictable story would bear almost no noticeable resemblance to Dickens. Just about all of the original's flavor and atmosphere is gone, along with the haunting sense of the unknown that terrified Scrooge into his transformation. Tim's exploration of his own possible futures lacks the dramatic punch or tension necessary to offset the treacly, musical-comedy nature of the rest of the book. The show is gentle, warm, and funny, but almost to a fault - Meglin doesn't successfully juxtapose the light and the dark elements, and that makes it difficult to take either half of the story seriously.
The songs, with Meglin's lyrics set to Neil Berg's music, are never unpleasant but also never dynamic or characterful. Scrooge's first song - "Humbug!" - makes a decent enough opening number; Allison's singing with her friend about the role of women in the world ("A Woman's Place") is an interesting pontification on the age's social mores; and "Separate Paths" is a lovely duet for the embittered lovers. The larger group numbers for the Cratchit family are bouncy and melodic, while the plot songs surrounding the Counting House are weaker, from the minor "An Agreement" to the overly-lengthy and plodding "The Business of Business." Bob's depressing "The Way It Was Then" is an unsuccessful attempt to bring Dickensian concerns into the otherwise lighthearted show.
Robert Creighton is too youthful and energetic to be credible as one of the elderly and stodgy speculators, but the casting is otherwise fine: Bobby Steggert is an appealing and well-sung Tim, and Jessica Grové brings an attractive innocent charm and vocal purity to Allison. William McCauley is believable enough (if a bit cartoonish) as the reformed Scrooge; Alexis Grausz brings a nice sense of comedy to Allison's friend, Vanessa; and David Furr and Tally Sessions do fine by their comic roles as Tim's older brothers.
Director Nick Corley does everything he can to keep the staging fluid and the pacing up, and costume designer Tina Heinze adds a nice touch of Victorian elegance to the proceedings. Yet neither their contributions, nor those of the performers, can find much necessity in the story. At its best, it's a rehash of themes from Dickens's original; at its worst, it tarnishes the original's reputation with characterizations and situations missing vital layers of complexity and detail. How much would this story interest us if we didn't already know most of the characters backgrounds? Most likely, not very much.
Still, with some judicious trimming and polishing, Tim and Scrooge might eventually work well enough, even if it's unlikely to ever work well. One can't help but wonder if Meglin himself might even have been aware of this: Tim's mother, Ann (played by Robin Skye), sings at one point, "When at a loss for words to say, clarity and brevity win the day." Truer words about writing - whether a love letter or a musical - have seldom been written.
New York Musical Theatre Festival