Book, music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
Sunderland Empire and touring
When Dickens' novella A Christmas Carol first appeared in 1843 it was an immediate hit and has been so ever since, becoming almost synonymous with Christmas as productions of many stage versions appear all over the country. When Leslie Bricusse's stage musical version of 1992, entitled Scrooge and based on the 1970 film starring Albert Finney (for which Bricusse wrote the songs), first appeared (at the Birmingham Alexandra starring Anthony Newley), it too struck a chord and has since been revived many times, including with Tommy Steele in the title role at the London Palladium in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2009 (see our review of that 2005 production).
It's not at all surprising, for both the original and and its stage/film derivations, including the musical (on this tour starring Tommy Steele), tick all the Christmas boxes (unintentional pun!): it's a sentimental tale of how a miserable old miser is brought to see the error of his ways by supernatural intervention which shows him the consequences of his actions and contrasts them with the simple goodness of others. Indeed, it is a straightfoward morality tale, guaranteed to leave its readers and audiences experiencing a warm, feel-good glow.
It helps, too, that Tommy Steele, now almost 74, has attained the status of a national treasure, so the Sunderland Empire audience were definitely predisposed to enjoying themselves.
To be honest, Scrooge is not a particularly memorable musical - for me only "Thank you very much" actually sticks in the mind - but that really doesn't matter. It's an affirmation of what we like to think is the true spirit of Christmas.
But what of the production? Appropriately - the illusions aside: more of that later - it could well be called old-fashioned. This is particularly apparent in the crowd scenes which are all carefully composed stage pictures, looking like a "traditional" Christmas card with even the poorest looking impeccably neat, tidy and clean.
The set is dark and threatening and the costumes reminiscent of John Leech's illustrations for the book's first edition, although designer Paul Farnsworth uses colour brilliantly: dull and dark with brown, black and grey predominating in Scrooge's counting house and home, generally muted and mezzotint-like in the street scenes, bright and cheerful in the home of Scrooge's nephew Harry - all very Victorian, with the only brilliant colour being the Father Christmas outfit donned by Scrooge at the end.
Paul Kieve, magic consultant for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, is responsible for the very effective illusions, not a few of which brought audible gasps from the audience.
The cast give their all and Tommy Steele's energy belies his age. I have to say, though, that there seemed to be some problems in getting the sound balance right in his solos, with him being drowned out occasionally by the ten-strong orchestra.
There can be no doubt that Scrooge succeeds in what it sets out to do. It's a family-friendly, feel-good musical which carries the audience along with it. Their familiarity with the story and the warmth of their regard for the show's star contribute to what is an enjoyable evening's entertainment.
Runs until 30th October, then touring to Hull, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Cardiff and Dublin
Reviewer: Peter Lathan