Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Arizona Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent review of POTUS

Shuler Hensley and Cast
Photo courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company
In the grand tradition of holiday musicals, the new stage adaptation of Scrooge! at Arizona Theatre Company, which is based on the 1970 film of the same name and features a score and book by Leslie Bricusse, offers a familiar journey through the well-trodden narrative of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." There have been dozens of adaptations of this classic story of redemption, including ones featuring the Muppets, a female Scrooge, Mister Magoo, and Bill Murray, and those that set the story in modern times, so making changes to the familiar story is understandable. However, while the essence of the classic tale remains intact in this updated stage adaptation, Bricusse's score isn't that memorable. While this production keeps the period, setting, and main characters from Dickens' novel, it also makes a few weird changes to the names of the characters (some of which were also in the film) along with incorporating some strange creative elements that distract from the emotional connection that one would hope for from Dickens' story.

The plot, in case you need a refresher, follows the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge as he is visited by the ghosts of his former business partner Jacob Marley and those of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. As the spirits guide Scrooge through poignant moments of his life, he is forced to confront his own greed, his shortcomings, and the unkind nature he has with others and rediscover the true meaning of Christmas. It's a tale that has resonated for generations and a timeless reminder of redemption and the transformative power of compassion.

Director Matt August worked with Bricusse on this updated stage version that's based on the film and the previous theatrical version of the movie. August helmed the successful Broadway production of another classic Christmas tale, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and after Bricusse passed away in 2021 he continued working on this updated stage version with Bricusse's estate. While the film stuck fairly close to Dickens' story, it did make some odd changes to familiar character names that were changed for no apparent reason–Scrooge's nephew is now called Harry instead of Fred, and the woman he was engaged to is now Isabel and not Belle, which are, unfortunately, carried over here. In August's adaptation which is based on Bricusse's rewritten screenplay for the stage, the ghosts are almost all changed as well but none of the changes really adds anything to the story; Marley's chains that tied him down in the novel are now pieces of fabric that have become a large, heavy robe; the usually playful Christmas Past is now more of a spider like woman; and Christmas Future has an odd white muscular shield over his torso and not the usual all black clad creature that is very distracting. Dickens' purists will wonder why these changes were necessary as none are additive to the story.

August has bookended the production with brief modern scenes of children and young adults peering into a toy children's theatre that has the same set design that we'll see full scale when the youngsters are pulled into the story. While that is an intriguing way to bridge the past to the present and attempt to make the story more relevant, it isn't fleshed out in any way to truly make it resonate. Once the kids are brought into the play, they just become background characters with nothing of value added. Perhaps it would have been more impactful if one of the modern characters we saw was an older man who was mistreating others that is then brought back in time into the story and becomes Scrooge so that he can learn from his mistakes.

While the set design from Jason Ardizzone-West is gorgeous, with black and white frames set inside each other that create the feeling of a large toy theatre with excellent projections from Brad Peterson that are eerie and imaginative and evocative lighting from Paul Miller, the costumes from Elizabeth Caitlin Ward are particularly garish for the ensemble, with shades of blue, lime green, and yellow that don't appear to resemble anything period appropriate. Fortunately, the designs for Scrooge and the supporting characters are quite good. The music direction from Alan J. Plado is good, with strong singing from the large cast, but the orchestrations sound quite tinny and slight played by the six-piece orchestra.

This production is fortunate to have Tony winning actor Shuler Hensley playing the challenging role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Hensley delivers a performance that allows us to see the nuances of Scrooge's character and his journey from miserly curmudgeon to redeemed benefactor is navigated with a sincerity that, while not truly reaching profound depths, remains engaging. Hensley's strong performance also allows the audience to empathize with Scrooge's transformation.

The cast are all quite good, with Stewart Gregory, Karmine Alers, and Geoffrey F. Belliston providing clear and strong vocals as Marley, Christmas Present, and Christmas Past, respectively. Chris Will is endearing as the overworked and underpaid Bob Cratchit; Danny Bass is bright and charming as both the Young Scrooge and Scrooge's Nephew; Beni Bermudez is appealing as Tiny Tim; and Tony Castellanos and Trisha Ditsworth are joyous and fun as the Fezziwigs. Also, Aaron Cammack energetically delivers the one catchy tune in the score, "Thank You Very Much." Spencer Liff's choreography for that song and the other ensemble numbers is bright and fun.

ATC has said that they plan for this production to be an annual holiday presentation and in August's program notes he mentions that some aspects of the production will be completed next year. I'm not certain what aspects will be augmented or changed, but if they are able to clarify and correct some of the shortcomings in this current production that would be a major plus.

Arizona Theatre Company Theatre's Scrooge! runs through December 30, 2023, at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Mesa AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or 833-282– 7328.

Book, Music and Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse
Director: Matt August
Choreographer: Spencer Liff
Music Director: Alan J. Plado
Scenic Designer: Jason Ardizzone-West
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Caitlin Ward
Lighting Designer: Paul Miller
Sound Designer: Cricket S. Myers
Projection Designer: Brad Peterson
Revised and Additional Orchestrations and Arrangements:
David O Associate Choreographer: J Savage
Stage Manager: Donovan Dolan
Assistant Stage Managers: Rafi Levavy, Kevin Jinghong Zhu

Ebenezer Scrooge: Shuler Hensley*
Miss Dilber: Alexandria Joy*
Second Miss Dilber, The Ghost of Christmas Past: Karmine Alers*
Bissett, Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come: J Savage*
Jollygoode, Mr. Fezziwig: Tony Castellanos*
Harty, Mrs. Fezziwig: Trisha Ditsworth*
Punch and Judy Man: Dennis Tamblyn*
Tom Jenkins: Aaron Cammack*
Pringle, The Ghost of Christmas Present: Geoffrey F. Belliston*
Baker: Alison Thomas-Visgar*
Nephew, Ebenezer: Danny Bass
Bob Cratchit: Chris Will*
Tiny Tim, Young Ebenezer, Street Urchin: Beni Bermudez
Young Ebenezer, Street Urchin: Max Morgan
Kathy Cratchit, Jen: Jacquelyn Fuchs
The Ghost of Jacob Marley: Stewart Gregory
Isabel: Lillie Langston
Mrs. Cratchit: Brenda Jean Foley*
Martha Cratchit, Street Urchin: Gemma Pedersen
Peter Cratchit, Street Urchin: Holden Jones
Helen: Daniela Delahuerta*
Street Urchin: Brooklyn Martin
Mary: Madelyn Whitehead
Dick, Topper: John Katz

*Member, Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States