It can feel as if there are as many variant adaptations of Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol as there are of Peter Pan. When it comes to musical versions, many people’s personal favourite may be The Muppet Christmas Carol – but Alan Menken’s stage adaptation has a delicious score that is up there with some of his best Disney musicals.
Originally staged annually on Broadway with Scrooges that include Roddy McDowall, Jim Dale and Tim Curry among their number, the LOST Theatre Company’s production, with a cast mixing actors both professional and amateur, can’t hope to match that calibre. Any lack of experience is compensated by enthusiasm and a clear love for the material and for the joy of performing.
Menken’s score is played out here as a pre-recorded track. Sound level problems mean that solo vocal performances, and even spoken dialogue, struggle to be heard over the synthesised orchestrations – but given the quality of Menken’s composition, that is almost forgivable. It does, however, mean that any attempt at character nuance or subtlety can get lost.
In such circumstances, Piers Garnham’s Scrooge struggles to initially portray the sort of character that makes us yearn for his redemption. Lynn Ahrens’ lyrics and book (the latter co-written by Mike Ockrent) draw extensively on Dickens’ original dialogue, and the story is familiar enough that a lack of vocal clarity does not prevent comprehension of the ongoing story.
Ahrens’ adaptation introduces some novel elements to the original story, most notably placing the three ghosts of Christmases past, present and future among the initial ensemble numbers, observing Ebenezer Scrooge at close quarters.
It gives a fresh spin on their future spectral appearances. Additionally, the chains around Richard Lounds’ Jacob Marley attain a metaphorical significance, Scrooge’s old partner weighed down and shackled by his sins against the poor.
As Scrooge’s ghostly mentors show him scenes from his past, dance sequences progress from Fezziwig’s Victorian shindig to a gleefully anachronistic 1930s-style tap number, with young performer Kyarna Shea shining in the latter. Rebecca Westberry’s Ghost of Christmas Present is a delightful companion.
Act II struggles to maintain the levity, dealing as it does with the visions delivered by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be of Scrooge’s own death and that of Tiny Tim, and nor can Ahrens and Ockrent’s book really do anything about Dickens’ own penchant for syrupy melodrama.
And yet Scrooge’s redemption and change of heart do finally feel earned, allowing for one more jolly ensemble number to bring matters to a fitting conclusion.
There are times where the amateur elements of this production do show through, rendering A Christmas Carol as a show more to be enjoyed for its cast exuberance than its technical prowess. But as a celebration of the traditional Dickensian tale, it does its job well.