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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Scrooge at Seattle Musical Theatre

Scrooge
Kitana Turnbull and J. Stegar Thompson
By now, nearly all of Charles Dickens' books have been adapted into musicals—less successful ones, like Pickwick from "The Pickwick Papers" and Copperfield ("David Copperfield"), and big hits such as The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Oliver! ("Oliver Twist"). But just as there are countless straight play adaptations of Dickens' most popular book "A Christmas Carol," so have there been all manner of musicals based on the classic holiday tale. Sadly, Scrooge, adapted for the stage from the '70s film musical starring Albert Finney, with book, music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, is a long-drawn out affair which talented director Steven Fogell and a game (if wildly uneven) cast can only fitfully bring to life.

Only those in a lengthy state of being cryogenically frozen could lack knowledge of the plot/characters involved in Scrooge, a tale of a late 19th century elderly skinflint's redemption via four ghostly visitations on a Christmas Eve. Leslie Bricusse's film script is a much terser and characterful affair, and a program count of the stage version's musical numbers shows that over the years the stage adaptation added five additional musical numbers to those composed for the film, and regrettably none of them prove worthy additions.

A lot rides on the actor playing old Scrooge in any version of this tale, and if J. Stegar Thompson can't manage a homerun as the curmudgeonly fellow, he scores a solid triple. Thompson is first and foremost a real musical theatre baritone, so some of the better material that Sir Albert Finney could only talk-sing or croak his way through ("I Hate People," "I'll Begin Again") is in good hands with this musical theatre vet. Thompson doesn't start out as reprehensible an old coot as one might wish, more grumpy than cantankerous, so his path to redemption isn't that surprising, but he keeps the production on course with energy and a an eccentric manner that never flag in the demanding role. Kitana Turnbull is as endearing a Tiny Tim as I have ever encountered, able to bring a tear to the eye with a clear, sweet child's voice as she leads the other young Cratchits in "The Beautiful Day." A masterfully made-up Dave Holden is a model of ghostly creepiness as the spirit of Scrooge's late business partner, Jacob Marley. As The Ghost of Christmas Present, Rebecca Maiten creates a hearty, humorously cynical characterization and delivers "I Like Life" with boisterous abandon, and Kate Sumpter as the Ghost of Christmas Past (revealed to be Scrooge's late beloved sister in this version) renders the ballad "Love While You Can" notably, despite its weaknesses as written. The young Adult Scrooge is capably enacted and sweetly sung by Brendan Rosell. Terrific veteran Puget Sound actors Loretta Deranleau Howard and Eric Hartley are the plums in this Christmas pudding making you wish they were in larger roles, or that the whole show could be reworked around The Fezziwigs.

Less effective are Peter Nolte as Bob Cratchit and Adrian Cerrato as Scrooge's nephew. Nolte plays one shade of glum throughout as Scrooge's beleaguered clerk, while the lanky Cerrato seems like a grinning Tommy Tune standby looking for a tap number that never comes. And, unfortunately, Jesse David Dickerson overacts so broadly and sings so thinly as Tom Jenkins, that the show's best written song and only showstopper, "Thank You Very Much," is very nearly derailed.

In the loveliest, best realized and most artful scenic design I can recall in many an SMT production, Steven Fogell brings the black and white etchings style of an illustrated classic Dickens tale magically to life, and he or whomever created the tall, looming puppet Ghost of Christmas Future, did their eerie job well. DodiRose Zooropa costumed the large cast in fitting styles of splendor or poverty as required. Joanna Hardie's choreography takes into account the varied levels of skill of her ensemble, and does what it can, given the sameness of the production numbers as written. Josh Anderson leads a small orchestra to a smashing performance, and the robust ensemble vocals also benefit from his artful touch.

As full houses attest, this Scrooge has been a box office hit, but I can't help thinking that SMT or other groups looking to bring a musical of this Dickens standard to their audiences take a look at the far worthier Alan Menken/Lynn Ahrens A Christmas Carol next time.

Seattle Musical Theatre's Scrooge performing through December 9 at Magnuson Park Community Center Building at 7120 67th Ave NE, still has seats available for December 6 and 7 7:30 performances only (the Saturday and Sunday shows have sold out). For reservations call 206-363-2809 or visit www.SeattleMusicalTheatre.org.


Photo: Jenni El Fattal



- David Edward Hughes



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