Estella Scrooge: A Christmas Carol with a Twist
Book by John Caird and Paul Gordon, Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon
Streaming Musicals LLC
When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, even he could not have imagined the popularity of stage adaptations of the work over 175 years later. Sometimes in the yuletide season, it seems as if there is nothing else available bar pantos.
Therefore, the arrival of yet another interpretation, produced by Streaming Musicals, might not immediately meet with the enthusiasm that this production richly deserves.
The first point to make is that, as the subtitle suggests, this is “A Christmas Carol with a Twist” and it is that twist that makes all the difference. In particular, the creative team has attempted to overcome the weaknesses of most recent online stagings by using innovative and sometimes spectacular new techniques, honed by production art designer Zach Wilson.
The technological work is so good that viewers will instantly forget that every performer was rehearsed and filmed on their own and some may even doubt the veracity of this claim.
As a result, Estella Scrooge has the visual attractions of a high-quality video game but thankfully more soul and much less violence.
Stage aficionados will also be pleased to note that the 2¼-hour online presentation is directed and co-written by Brit John Caird, whose resumé includes a big hand in the creation of two of the RSC’s greatest hits, Les Misérables and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.
For this venture, his co-creator is Paul Gordon, who also likes working with the classics, having adapted Jane Eyre (with Caird) which had a respectable Broadway run two decades ago and more recently Pride and Prejudice for Amazon Prime.
The producers have done them proud, with a starry cast packed with Tony nominees and led by Broadway star Betsy Wolfe playing Estella Scrooge, alongside her Danny Burstein taking the role of great-great-great-great-grandfather Ebenezer.
Not only is Estella Scrooge a little bit different but it is also a big bit good. The plot set in Trump’s America might be a touch melodramatic but it is certainly action-packed but retains the heartrending qualities of the original.
Even better, rather than restricting themselves to a single, tried and tested but overused novella, the writers have spread their wings more widely, borrowing from other parts of the Dickens canon including Nicholas Nickleby, Great Expectations, Little Dorrit and Bleak House with references to so many of the other novels and stories.
Running the show at Bleak House Capital, Estella is the kind of hard-nosed corporate executive who gives capitalism a bad name. This queen of the foreclosure’s sole interest lies in making profits, uncaringly cold-shouldering Megan McGinnis as her kind-hearted secretary Betty Cratchit, even when the latter desperately asks for help to support her sick daughter, Tiny Tammy.
Foregoing a Christmas lunch with the Cratchits, Ms Scrooge’s yuletide mission is to a run-down and insolvent hotel in her hometown of Pickwick, Ohio.
This establishment’s mission is to bring together “Almost a family” of likeable misfits under the benevolent eye of her old flame, smooth-singing Clifton Duncan’s ’Pip’ Nickleby, kept nicely in check by Lauren Patten as cynical emo rocker Dawkins, who gets one of the show’s best songs “Barbie Doll”.
The story almost literally takes off when a blizzard traps the titular character in the hotel and she receives a series of haunting visitations prefaced by ghostly Aunt Marla Havisham, gleefully portrayed by Carolee Carmelo who wittily freaks out the “Wall Street Baby Superstar”.
Not too far behind come three spirits, one of whom is none other than the leading figure from the original, Danny Burstein playing lots of Greats Uncle Ebenezer. Closure comes following the appearance of Patrick Page playing sinister suicide Merdle and a vision of a post-Dickensian Christmas of the future.
The updated story works perfectly and the stunning visual experience is suitably enhanced by a series of catchy R 'n' B and rock songs, which advance the plot and show off the talents of the superb cast, Betsy Wolfe and Clifton Duncan always to the fore.
Estella Scrooge is an ambitious and exciting production that, in technical terms, takes lockdown theatre far beyond anything that this critic has seen so far. Not only that, but the underlying script and score are both of the highest quality, making this hot favourite to become the best new online theatre presentation since physical venues first closed their doors last March.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher