It seems that, when introducing a musical production of A Christmas Carol, you shouldn’t need to differentiate it by listing the composers, but as there are at least two musical Christmas Carols happening this year, one at the Tabard and a second at the Charing Cross Theater, a “by” line is necessary. I’ll note, though, that the second is not just newly written but not yet opened: this review is for the Menken (Little Shop of Horrors) and Ahrens (Ragtime, Seussical) show, originally written in 1994 and receiving its London debut at the Tabard. For my money (or for £17 of yours), I’d bet on the known quantity over the “we haven’t opened yet but have given ourselves five stars” gang; and with a love of this story and an excitement for seeing a new musical, I was off to the distant reaches of the District line for an afternoon’s fun.
The story is fairly traditional, with a bit more focus on Marley and less on Fezziwig (and school) during the “Christmas Past” scenes, and a much more active Tiny Tim (he somehow limps up a ladder) than I’ve come to expect. The three ghosts are done in a Wizard of Oz fashion, with each of them appearing earlier in the story and then returning to haunt Scrooge later. I loved seeing cheery Fred Ebenezer (Anthony Hott) back on stage to chide Scrooge with his very happiness; but the use of Scrooge’s old girlfriend Emily (Grace Osborn – my apologies if I’ve miscredited this, Dickens’ naming was not followed) as the ghost of Christmas Past was less successful. Although she looked lovely in her fairy light dress, she gave confusing messages by changing character mid-scene. And I genuinely disliked the authorial choice to have the blind woman of the earlier street scenes (Elizabeth Bright) play the ghost of Christmas future – it just ascribes a level of malice to her I found unappetizing and deleterious to the message of this story.
A Christmas Carol (“the musical”) is written in the style of the modern “tuneful” musical (as opposed to the works of Sondheim), although the styling seems very much designed for the screen (big or small) rather than the stage – the words and melodies aren’t given the kind of importance they would normally received in a world free of closeups, and the chorus do a lot to create a setting (complete with movement) rather than being there to make pretty musical experiences for us. I’m not saying there was anything to complain about in terms of the quality of the singing, but I did have high hopes for a new musical and these weren’t met. I was also disappointed with rather more cheerful approach taken for this show than in many of the adaptations I’ve seen. However, it was fun to watch and moved along really quickly, and it did really fill the intimate space of the Tabard straight up to the rafters. I’d say it’s really solid holiday entertainment that is a good buy for £17 – I’m really glad I got the chance to see it.
(This review is for a performance that took place at 2:30 on Sunday, December 8th, 2013. It continues through January 5th.)