PERRY — Every year around this time, I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and watch one of the many versions that have been produced. In both film and theatre, there are numerous incarnations of this holiday classic to enjoy. This can make watching an unfamiliar version a little more difficult, as it is impossible to not have some preconceived notions of the story and its characters. Scrooge at the Heritage Theatre gives a slightly different take on the classic Dickens tale. Some of these choices were more successful than others, but ultimately the show leaves the audience with a warm outpouring of the spirit of Christmas.
Scrooge was written in 1992 with book, music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. The score and book are adapted from the 1970 musical film Scrooge, which earned Bricusse an Academy Award nomination. Most of the problems with this production can be attributed to Bricusse. He took some unsatisfying liberties with the character of Scrooge, making him silly by not realizing when everyone was celebrating the fact that he was dead. Then, after reforming, he disguises himself as Santa, which felt forced into the Victorian story.
Any play about Scrooge is going to pivot around the title role, in this production played by Daren Saunders, who does a good job bringing the famous penny pincher to life. Saunders starts the play with a deep gravely “harrumph” to his voice, which contrasts his smooth tenor singing voice. However, I wish that during Scrooge’s solos he would have been given some blocking to add movement and interest to the song. Director Marilyn Olsen Whipple’s blocking left Saunders center stage and did not give him anywhere to go. Despite these script and blocking issues, Saunders does well with the part and does try to give range to Scrooge’s transformation. His humor makes Scrooge likable and adds charm.
In such a complicated show with many different characters, and such a large cast, it was wonderful to see brief moments for the supporting actors to shine. The ghosts are all portrayed excellently. I really liked the number that the ghost of Jacob Marley (played by Dave McKenzie) performs with a group of hooded Phantoms, “Make the Most of this World.” It is a well-done number with a spooky mood and a toe-tapping beat. Following Marley’s decree that Scrooge will be haunted, the first of the three ghosts appear. The Ghost of Christmas Past (played by Laura Anderson) has a beautiful voice and shines in her number “Love While You Can.” This is one of the few places that Bricusse made some changes to the classic story that I thought were interesting and enjoyable. Later, Rylan Merkley is a boisterous Ghost of Christmas Present and is jolly with a booming voice and a hearty laugh.
Among the living characters, Mr. Fezziwig (played by Greg Lemke) is a standout for the comic relief he brings to the stage with his infectious smile and energy. The part of Young Ebenezer also plays Ebenezer’s nephew “Harry.” (As an aside, it really bothers me that Bricusse changed Ebenezer’s nephew’s name from Fred to Harry. The character’s name is Fred.) Whether portraying Harry (a.k.a. Fred), or Young Ebenezer, David Hubbard Jr. is enjoyable and gives a nice parallel look at what Ebenezer’s life would have been like had he made different choices. Hubbard has a sonorous voice that blends beautifully during his two duets, “You You” with Scrooge, and “Happiness” with Isabel (played by Ashlee Giblette).
One of my favorite moments of the show was when Tiny Tim was given a solo in “The Beautiful Day.” Young actor Andrew King has an angelic voice that carried through the space and pulls at the heartstrings when it is reprised later by Bob Cratchit (played by Jordan Gardner).
Musicals being musicals, Bricusse gives the townsfolk some jolly numbers to sing and dance. Whipple directs these large group scenes well. Hydee Weeks’s choreography shines in the large group numbers that created a fun and lively air. I particularly enjoyed the numbers, “December the 25th” and “Thank You Very Much” for their tempo and tight execution that highlight what the musical genre can offer to a story.
While there are some changes that are more successful than others, this is an excellent community production by the Heritage Theatre. Some could find the changes to be a fun and refreshing spin on the old classic. In one song it talks about the “Milk of Human Kindness” and how sweet it is, this musical serves up a hot glass of that milk of human kindness for the audience to enjoy. It will make a great start to the holiday season to remember the lessons Scrooge learns to remember Christmas and keep it in our hearts the whole year through.