Bah, humbug OR God bless us, every one?
I won't waste too much time recounting the story of A Christmas Carol - you all know it by now. The story has been told and re-told countless times, so the real question is - did we really need another version? Before I watched this musical, I would have leaned towards the negative, but having seen it, I think I might have just been a bit of a Scrooge myself.
The most famous story in the world has proven to be a difficult one to adapt to music in the past. I've seen a few musical versions of various levels of success, but I'm happy to report that this one trumps those that I've seen. The music by Bob Christianson proves to be quite varied, ranging from the type of song you'd expect to hear in a Broadway production, to something straight out of a gospel revival, with several stops in varying genres on the way. But, despite the wide variety of styles, Christianson's music has a sturdy through-line that makes each of the songs one of a piece. He also is able to make good use of the cast, a full orchestra, and even a backing choir to create a sound that alternates between glorious, haunting, bombastic, and intimate.
The lyrics and book adaptation by Alisa Hauser proves to be an equal match to the music. The lyrics strike a clean balance between clever (when needed) and touching. For the most part, and this is often an issue when dealing with musicals, the lyrics are used to propel the story forward and never feel as if the plotline is on hold to belt out a number. For her libretto, Hauser seems to have used the original novel (who wrote that again?) as inspiration more than many recent adaptations, as she provides more backstory from the original text (and a bit that is exclusive to this production). If anything, we may have a bit too much text (again, we all know the story), but that hardly gets in the way of the great work she has done here.
As for the cast, they all perform their respective roles with conviction and gusto. The singing here is certainly never a concern - the voices are all pretty spot on, particularly E. Faye Butler as our narrator, who introduces us to the upcoming story, and serves as our Greek chorus throughout. Michael Lindner as Scrooge obviously has the biggest emotional journey to make, and handles it beautifully. Arya Daire as Belle, Scrooge's former fiance, has a bit more beefed up of a part than I remember from previous productions, but this one benefits all the more for it. Her scenes with Scrooge are some of the more moving. The only other two soloists each play a familiar role, along with various smaller parts - Scott Coulter as Bob Cratchit and Kyle Scatliffe as Jacob Marley and the other ghosts are quite good in probably the toughest roles in the show.
Production values also prove to be spot on. The cameras focus, as they should, primarily on the on-stage action, but also give nice glimpses into the incredible orchestra and choir backing up the lead performers. The direction by David Kersnar is more intricate and staged than a typical concert performance, but serves the talent well.
JASON'S FINAL THOUGHTS:
A new version of The Christmas Carol is probably not anything that anyone has been asking for, but when it's as entertaining, moving, and original as this musical adaptation, then I say there is always room for one more. This won't replace some of the all-time classic versions on your shelf, but since 31 days hath December, why not watch another? Sure, it's not perfect - what is? But, you'll still have a lot of fun with it. And, before you purchase the dvd, you can even watch it for free on PBS, beginning December 20th.
Jason's Grade: A
Theatre Review by Jason Howard, Influx Lead Writer