With just two weeks of rehearsal, the London Musical Theatre Orchestra’s 24 musicians and a small, hardworking cast have created a festive fantasia for all the family against the odds. Sadly, the move of London into tier 3 means this show closes today, along with all others recently opened or reopened.
There have been many adaptations of the Dickens novel of Christmas redemption, including a number of musicals. This one, composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Mike Ockrent. It is unabashedly sentimental alongside scenes bordering on the horrific. Even in a semi-staged concert version, these elements are not neglected.
Ebenezer Scrooge is played in this version by the versatile Brian Conley, a performer who captures both the sardonic monstrosity of the miser and the glee of the man redeemed. Although he is constantly present on stage, he does not over dominate, allowing supporting turns from Lucie Jones (a rather gleeful Christmas Past), Cedric Neal (dragging a reluctant Scrooge through time on a sleigh made of gift-wrapped boxes), and the child performers (four in all, including a more tolerable than usual Tiny Tim).
Under Shaun Kerrison’s director plays with the source material but sometimes plotlines are no improvement: Scrooge’s father is here thrown into debtor’s prison, yet his son, in cahoots with Marley like a pair of vultures, delight in ruining others, even his generous former employers, the Fezziwigs. I also found the scenes with Scrooge’s one-time fiancée Emily could have registered more strongly.
There are many positives though in this joyous production. A sequence with Marley’s ghost and his corpse colleagues almost consuming a shivering Scrooge is marvellous, and there is genuine pathos in the Future sequence at the Cratchit graveside. An earlier sequence where Scrooge stops still and removes his hat as a hearse passes by surely hints at good in him. And a clever reverse of action ensures “the spirits did it all in one night”.
The music of the LMTO, conducted by Freddie Tapner, does full justice to Menken’s melodies and incidental flourishes. Separated by Perspex screens, the safety of performers is paramount – and that extended into the care given to welcoming audiences back, albeit so briefly.
This Christmas Carol is ultimately a triumph of humour (Conley’s Scrooge brings back memories of the 1950s classic film with his delighted cavorting on Christmas Day) and high emotion. There is snow sprinkling down on to the stalls, and a curtain speech from the leading man struck just the right note of thanks, frustration, hope and unique British resolve.
A Christmas Carol closes at the Dominion Theatre on 15th December after just eleven performances.
Reviewer: Louise Penn
Reviewed: 15th December 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★