Posts Tagged ‘A Christmas Carol’

Review – Menken & Ahren’s “A Christmas Carol” (the Musical) – Tabard Theater

December 9, 2013

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.)

Mini-review – A Christmas Carol – Beyond Theatre at Baron’s Court Theatre

December 6, 2013

The Christmas season is now well and fully upon us, with most pantos open and about four hundred different versions of Messiah on offer. In the spirit of December theater going, I decided to scratch my Christmas Carol itch with a performance at the Baron’s Court Pub, which publicity materials had touted as “funny” and “interactive.” My hopes were high, especially given the promised 80 minute running time – hey, if push came to shove, we were already in a pub, so it would just be like a break in a night of holiday drinking.

I think, though, I was not expecting this to be done with in a sketch comedy style. Scenes were constantly interrupted by actors talking off book, we (the audience) were asked to provide background noises (bells, clanking chains), perform (as the guests at Fezziwig’s party, for example), and were being interacted with quite directly by the performers from the moment we walked in the door. I wasn’t really up for this: I didn’t want to hold sausages or play games or otherwise engage in forced jollility. I wasn’t convinced that what was happening was particularly funny and I just wanted to be left alone.

Unfortunately in such a small space this was almost impossible, and with no place to escape it all became rather oppressive. (Have I mentioned I don’t like sketch comedy?) There were some highlights – I did love the special effect they used to create Scrooge’s door knocker (two sheets of paper) and (spoiler alert!) having Bob Marley instead of Jacob Marley was just genius. But so many of the distractions and horsing around just didn’t tickle my funny bone at all, and it made me grumpy. This was my idea of hell: being trapped in a room with five comedians, twenty audience members, and no place to go.

For raw comedy, this didn’t touch the infamous Black Light Christmas Carol I saw in 2004 (child actors drinking and being hostile, I loved it), and it just didn’t really move me the way this story can. So, in summary: bah humbug. Wish me better luck at the Tabard this Sunday.

(This review is for a performance that took place December 5th, 2013. Tonight is the last night.)

Review – Phil Willmott’s musical “A Christmas Carol” – King’s Head Theatre

December 17, 2008

PLEASED TO SAY THIS REVIEW IS GENERATING PERSONAL ATTACKS ON ME! And thanks for visiting the review of last year’s production of A Christmas Carol. Here’s what I had to say in 2008:

Friday night I went to the official opening of the musical “Christmas Carol” that’s taking place through January 4th at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington. A friend was involved in it and thus I had a bit more awareness than usual about this show – I’d had a peek at the script a few weeks earlier and was almost talked out of going by the use of “In The Hall of the Mountain King” as a sung bit. Still, I had a friend visiting me that night, and she was up for seeing the show with me (and supporting said mutual friend), so off we went.

I’d never seen a show in a pub before, even though I know it’s a fairly common thing in London. The theater, all the way behind the bar (on the main floor), was really small (eighty or so seats) with rather low ceilings. It was also completely jammed with performers – at least twenty were on the stage, in the aisles, or standing off to the sides, chatting and playing musical instruments. It was amazing how full of humanity the little theater was. Still, sightlines in the middle section were good, and I figured with my glass of mulled wine I was sure to be good through an hour and a half no matter what they threw at me.

The trope for this show is that Charles Dickens is trying to sell his publisher on this new book idea of his that he thinks will be incredibly popular (and make money), and he starts telling him the story that is “A Christmas Carol” in a pub in Victorian England, with the idea that if he can capture this audience, his story will surely sell well. This is all good and fine, except … well, I don’t give a rat’s ass about Charles Dickens as a person. Furthermore, I’d just been to the Dickens museum, and the false historical references (his previous novels being a failure and him being any way in financial straights when he wrote “A Christmas Carol”) really irritated me. Please! He was an established, well-to-do writer when he cranked out “Christmas Carol!” My friend was also going nuts because the costumes were a complete hodge-podge of pseudo-Victoriana (and she used to be a costume designer – how was I to know?). The bigger problem for me was that this story doesn’t NEED a framing device – it’s fine all on its own – and the time spent with Dickens took away from the story itself. (Note: Charlie Anson was totally hot, but that’s not the point. If I wanted to ogle him, I’d see him in … hmm … Equus … well, okay, a different show. What plays feature male actors taking it all off besides Equus? I must not be getting out enough to not be able to answer that question quickly. Anyway …)

Historical accuracy having been set aside, would the story at least be followed somewhat faithfully? Well … in my mind, no. I’ve seen a version of “A Christmas Carol” pretty much annually since I saw the Annex Theater version in Seattle some years ago (the one with the positively evil Tiny Tim), and the story isn’t as flexible as this production imagined it might be. To start, Scrooge (a delightfully curmudgeonly Mark Starr) gives no speech about the poor needing to make more of an effort to die, thus “decreasing the surplus population” – a sentiment which I’ve heard expressed nearly verbatim by a friend of mine this very year and one which I think bears regular repeating and thinking about. (It’s ludicrous to say that poor people simply shouldn’t exist and thus aren’t our concern.) Yet despite this, Cratchit (a good looking James Hayward) was out of the house and off for Christmas eve, leaving Scrooge to his lonely apartment, in about five minutes flat.

This gave us plenty of time to have fun with the haunting of Scrooge, but I found the spooky masked singing spooks just … a little too heavy handed, to be honest. This is actually a spooky and fun scene in the book, but I found its subtlety, and Marley’s message, got lost along the way.

And then the ghost of Christmas Past came along … and she was a girl, in a white dress, basically looking to me like a tarted up Miss Havisham. Where were my candles? When in the world did it get decided that she was “Cinderella, that you left behind when you left behind your books” (not a quote)? What a bunch of claptrap! Christmas Past as Cinderella! Yeah, sure, it was cool when they were “flown” over London (really awesome special effect involving not too much effort), but … CINDERELLA. You might as well have made … Tiny Tim the Ghost of Christmas Future. Oh wait, they DID! Forget the traditional image, this show came up with something so entirely ludicrous I found myself sighing and wishing for the finer points of the Stone Soup Theater’s Black Light Christmas Carol of some years past.

Good points: the singing of the cast was really enjoyable, Scrooge’s old girlfriend Belle (Poppy Roe) was really excellent in her scene (actually I enjoyed the whole Fezziwig scene rather a lot, though I thought the “On the First Day of Christmas” at the end was clunky), the tech crew/director did a great job handling some really challenging stuff in a tiny space (I liked the puppetry, and the lighthouse in the “Christmas by the Sea” scene was a treat), and the acting was far better than I would have expected from a space like this.

Overall this wasn’t a horrible show, but … I just think this script isn’t worthy of being produced. It’s not a bad Christmas Carol, and the price is low, so if you’re less particular about things like historical accuracy and fidelity to the text, you may enjoy it. Me, well, I can’t help but think fondly of the amazing South African “Christmas Carol” I saw last year, that captured all of the message of the story and fully bent and played with the structure while still feeling one hundred percent right. Oh well.

(This review is for a performance on Friday, December 12, 2008.)

Ikrismas Kherol – The Young Vic

December 11, 2007

So – the South African Christmas Carol that I saw at the Young Vic last night (December 10th, 2007) was really good. The description is “set in modern South Africa, with Scrooge a woman who runs a mine.”

Well. The show opened with the “miners” in the “mine shafts” (the catwalks over the stage), clanging and stomping and singing as they finished off their shift, moving into a big central area for a mining pantomime, then heading “up the elevator” to the surface where they sang some more and danced and horsed around, jumping and slapping their boots and … well, the songs, they actually had that kind of “Working on the Railroad” sound to them, like actual mining songs, and while I’m sure miners don’t normally do any kind of synchronized dancing on payday, I loved the energy these guys had. I kept thinking, Billy Elliot, eat your heart out! This show was ten times more tuneful and had much better choreography.

That said, what I really liked about this show was its emotional impact. By setting it in a country where abuse of labor is much more free and poverty much more dire than, say, the US or the UK at present, Scrooge’s selfishness and indifference to others was thrown into much higher relief. At home, someone who says they’d rather not give money to pay a child’s school expenses because “people shouldn’t have kids if they can’t afford them” wouldn’t actually be condemning said child to not go to school; someone who refused to give to a charity kitchen and said that it would be better that the poor should die “and decrease the surplus population” would be seen as being tacky but not leading to other people’s deaths through his or her inaction. (In some cases, I think, this sort of person would just be the typical anti-tax, John Galt, “poor people are lazy” kind of person that thinks he’s actually quite moral and ultimately creating a better society through his “virture of selfishness.”)

But it was clear that in South Africa, without someone to pay the bills for medicine, sick people die in their beds, the poor (especially children) eat garbage until they starve, and prostitution – even if it leads to your own early death – may be the only way to get any of that damned, desperate money you need so very much just to get through to the next day. Did you throw women out of work so that you could sell the land their factory sits upon? Then you may have ruined all of their lives and that of their children and every single person who depended on them to get them a meal and shelter. Even if what you did was just the “free market” acting to “maximize revenue potential,” it was still immoral, and to say there was no reason for you not to do it because “it’s enough for a man to understand his own business” doesn’t excuse it. Invisible hand, my ass.

Sadly, it’s been the Victorian setting of all of the “Christmas Carol”s I’ve seen in the past that kept Scrooge as just a curmudgeon in my eyes rather than a person whose claim that “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s” covers a genuine black hole in his heart. When you look at everyone who’s not as rich as you, who’s not as well-dressed, well-spoken or well-educated as you, and say, “That person, their fate has nothing to do with me, and it’s not my business to try to effect any difference in their life even if it might be in my power to do so,” you are spreading a selfish evil through the world and failing to recognize the web that connects all of us.

At any rate, the story telling power and musical prowess of last night’s Christmas Carol was truly amazing. I was exhilirated and moved, and I stood and clapped my heart out at the end, which I almost never do because I’ve seen lots of theater and it usually doesn’t touch me like this did. Get up and go see it, watch the “Christmas Present” scene of people dancing at at street party in the township, and tell me your view on this story has not been permanently changed.