Scrooge the Musical
Book, music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, based on the novel A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Sunderland Empire and touring
This was a night when all eyes were on entertainer Michael Barrymore staging his comeback in the transferred London Palladium production of Scrooge.
And talk about timing! Barrymore was back in the news again just last weekend with the announcement that police are to re-open their investigation into the death of a party-goer at his house six years ago.
This being a tale of ghosts from Christmas past and a story of redemption, there were one or two comparisons being made, what with Barrymore taking the starring role as Ebenezer Scrooge…
And there was a definite hushed air of anticipation in the theatre as the audience waited with baited breath for Barrymore to make his appearance. And when he did appear he got a round of applause, which seemed to ease the tension in the packed house.
Whatever you say about him - that man has stage presence. Last night's performance was marred by a bout of laryngitis - Barrymore's voice was hoarse and rasping when he attempted to sing - but he gave it his all.
The star of TV ratings' winners such as My Kind of People, My Kind of Music and Strike It Lucky is a charismatic entertainer. His facial expressions and comic timing were superb and he held the audience in the palm of his hand. Mesmerising is the word.
This is a dark and spooky, atmospheric musical with fantastic magical illusions. Furniture moves around, there are ghostly goings-on with mirrors and smoke and spirits appear and disappear. The sets are spectacularly dark and set the scene perfectly.
And the talented cast - which includes a clutch of young singers and dancers from Stagecoach schools in Newcastle and Sunderland - work their socks off.
It's a heart-warming and sparkling family musical that you can feel comfortable taking young children to, without fear of tacky double entendres.
Ghostly Marley with his enormous clanking chains and the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present are hugely entertaining and made the children - and many adults - jump out of their skin.
The poignant flashback scenes featuring a young Ebe, played by Ben Fleetwood Smyth, and Abigail Jaye, as Isabel, were outstanding. The pair of them sang beautifully and there was a real sense of what could have been.
There were other strong performances, too, from a jolly, clean-cut Bob Cratchit, played by Geoffrey Abbott. And crippled Tiny Tim, last night played by Adam Robertson, aged nine from Gosforth, Newcastle, had the definite "aah" factor, especially when he stood on top of the Cratchit kitchen table and sang solo.
However, this was Barrymore's night, and looking rather wrung-out by the end, he received a standing ovation from some in the audience. In an emotional finale, he thanked the audience for their support and said it was "wonderful to be back home".
"Scrooge" runs at the Empire until 13th January
Reviewer: Katharine Capocci