AISLE SAY Philadelphia

SCROOGE - The Musical

Book, Music and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
Directed by Bob Tomson
Starring Richard Chamberlain
Broadway in Philadelphia at The Merriam Theater
250 South Broad St., Phila., PA 19102
Through Jan. 2, 2005
Box Office: (215) 336-1234; Groups of 10 or more (215) 732-1366

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Richard Chamberlain stars as Ebenezer Scrooge in Leslie Bricusse's musical, "Scrooge" for a two week engagement at the Merriam Theater. Based on Charles Dickens's, "A Christmas Carol", this musical production directed by Bob Tomson and chock full of fantastic illusions by Paul Kieve, is a true holiday treat. First presented in 1970, it is a great, big, old fashioned musical. And there's nothing wrong with that. There's lots of perky choreography by Lisa Kent, lots of moving scenery by Paul Farnsworth and terrific sound effects designed by Mick Potter. The thing I found most enjoyable about this show is that it is not sung through. Hurray! There are actually scenes where people talk to one another -- as in a play. How about that? In this musical version, however, the original plot has been altered slightly. Here Scrooge is not just a man of business, but apparently the local money lender. Everyone in the neighborhood owes him money and he goes about on Christmas Eve trying to collect on the outstanding debts. Since most of the citizenry cannot pay, he raises their interest or (in the case of the Soup Man) wrangles free soup every night for a year in exchange for a two week grace period. Mr. Bricusse (or the director, I know not which) even has Scrooge go so far as to steal the penny out of a beggar child's cup! I felt that this crossed the line in deviating from the original character, for as we know him, Ebenezer Scrooge is a skinflint, but not a thief! But such is this interpretation.

As a composer, Leslie Bricusse has given us some of the most memorable and haunting songs ever written, such as "The Candy Man" and "Pure Imagination" from "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory", "What Kind of Fool Am I?" from "Stop the World I Want to Get Off", "Talk to the Animals" and "After Today" from "Doctor Dolittle" and my personal favorite, the entire score of "The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd, including "Who Can I Turn To?". So, of course there are some wonderful songs in this score as well, such as "I Like Life" and "Happiness" and songs that people may already be familiar with, such as "December the Twenty-Fifth", "Father Christmas", and "Thank You Very Much". People in the audience probably recognized the latter song immediately from a commercial for the Oxford Valley and Montgomery Malls here in Pennsylvania that is currently running on TV. (Why Mr. Bricusse would choose to sell the rights to this song at the same time that this show is on tour is a mystery to me --unless he and the producers think that any exposure is good exposure. Or perhaps it was licensed a long time ago and the tour and the commercial are just a coincidental collision happy or otherwise.)

Though not a singer, per se, Richard Chamberlain does a terrific job with this score. He has both rhythm and timing and sings with intense emotion. In short, he possesses good musical instincts that help him to carry the show. And it is Scrooge's show, for he is barely offstage for more than a minute or two. Mr. Chamberlain also has created his own unique characterization of Scrooge. His Ebenezer is a bit diabolical, if you will -- his hair even swept up into side curls that vaguely resemble a satyr's horns. Yes, there's a bit of the devil in his interpretation of the dastardly Scrooge and a bit of the gleeful child in the reformed one.

Though Mr. Chamberlain is the star engine that drives this theatrical vehicle he is surrounded and supported by a talented cast: Jonathan Weir as a wrenching Jacob Marley, who also serves as Mr. Chamberlain's understudy, Larry Adams, a beautiful baritone/bass as The Ghost of Christmas Present, David New who doubles nicely as Harry, Scrooge's nephew, and Ebenezer as a young man, Rebecka Reeve a rich voiced Isabel, Scrooge's fiancée, Roberta Duchak with a luscious soprano as The Ghost of Christmas Past and boy soprano Ben Ratskoff as Tiny Tim. Usually, I cannot tolerate most child singers in musicals, as their voices are blaring, harsh and nasal. But this young man has a voice that no child vocal coach has yet tampered with and destroyed. It is small and pure and sweet. In short, if hearing this little boy sing doesn't melt your heart - well, then you simply have no heart at all. And last but certainly not least there is George Keating, song and dance man extraordinaire as Tom Jenkins - who gets to sing the big production number (and what should be the showstopper) "Thank You Very Much". In all, this 26 person marvelously voiced ensemble (that includes 4 children) does more than justice to the intricate vocal arrangements of this score.

The sets and lush costumes are all of high production values and add to the festive holiday spirit of this musicalization. In short, this American Premiere of "Scrooge" is the perfect family holiday entertainment of the season. Don't miss it!

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