Scrooge

Music, Lyrics and Book by Leslie Bricusse (from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)
London Palladium
(2005)

Tommy Steele as Scrooge
Barry Howard as Jacob Marley

For anyone who has missed the various adaptations of A Christmas Carol, it's the story of a miserable old curmudgeon who hates Christmas. Happily, he is shown the error of his ways by four persuasive ghosts, just in time to change for… well, Christmas. It's one of the more direct of Dickens' plots and has a moral message at its heart: lead a good life or certain hell awaits you in the next one. Its Christmas theme probably has probably guaranteed it a place in literary history. Scrooge is one of the only Dickens characters whose name has passed readily into everyday language.

So can Dickens easily translate into an all-singing, all-dancing musical? There's no reason why not, as the stage musical Oliver! and its 1968 film version attests. The problem here lies not with the story, but with Leslie Bricusse's score. There are few toe-tapping numbers that are memorable enough for the audience to hum to themselves on the way out without embarrassment (surely the acid test of all great musicals). There are a couple of notable exceptions such as "Thank you very much" and "The Minister's Cat", both of which were exuberantly performed by the company, led of course, by the show's star, Tommy Steele.

Steele is the true centre of the production. A plaque at the Palladium was recently unveiled in his honour, revealing that he has headlined more productions there than any other performer (including the stage adaptations of Hans Andersen and Singin' in the Rain). And it shows. Though he will be seventy next year, he seemed to own the stage as he danced and leaped round it with the power and litheness of a man half his age. It must be said that he leans heavily towards the comic side of Dickens, eschewing the lugubrious take that his forbears Alastair Sim and Albert Finney had on the role, and his easy manner never really suggests the hate-figure that Scrooge embodies. But it is a performance that works within the context of the show.

The fact that the raw material, in terms of both songs and dialogue, is a little lacking means that the cast and crew have to work all the harder to turn it into a good evening's entertainment. After a slow start where the script hammered home the message that Scrooge was a sour, unreachable excuse for a human being, everyone managed to bring it off admirably. Lisa Kent's choreography was vibrant and assured. The ghosts, especially Marley (played by Barry Howard) and the Christmas Present (played by James Head) are suitably portentous. They appear on stage as if by magic (and so they should, since the illusions are arranged by Harry Potter's very own private magic tutor, Paul Kieve, a consultant on the latest film). Paul Farnsworth's set was both evocative of Dickensian poverty and magical at the same time and Bob Tomson's direction pulled all the vital elements together. The show's sentimentality and happy ending is just right for a family audience at this time of year, ensuring that people leave the theatre with a warm, fuzzy feeling, even if they've forgotten all the tunes.

Reviewer: Bronagh Taggart