- Rose Center Theater presents the rarely seen 1994 Broadway musical version of the holiday perennial, which takes liberties with its source.
While you may think you’ve seen every existing stage and screen adaptation of Dickens’ holiday perennial “A Christmas Carol,” you’ve probably overlooked the New York musical production which played at Madison Square Garden’s Paramount Theatre every year at Christmastime from 1994 through 2003.
That version’s pedigree is nearly unmatched: Music by Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid”), lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (“Ragtime,” “Seussical”) and book by Ahrens and Mike Ockrent (“Me and My Girl,” “Crazy For You,” “Big”).
‘A Christmas Carol: The Broadway Musical’
When: Through Dec. 15. 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (dark Nov. 28-30).
Where: Rose Center Theater, 14140 All American Way, Westminster
How much: $27 ($22 seniors/students)
Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Suitability: All ages
Call: 714-793-1150, ext. 1
If the project sounds vaguely familiar, you may have seen its 2004 Hallmark television version, which starred Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge. Either way, you’ll probably want to catch a rare local staging by the Rose Center Theater of Westminster.
Before booking those tickets, though, keep in mind that this version is a streamlined, watered-down treatment of what Dickens had originally conceived – a holiday-time ghost story.
That makes it an ideal property for the Rose, which is to say, for families and, especially, young children. The venue’s staging, directed and music-directed by Tim Nelson and choreographed by Jennifer Simpson-Matthews, doubles down on the already heavily kid-friendly nature of the show.
Mainstream audiences will probably marvel at some of the large-scale dance scenes as well as the Currier & Ives/storybook look of Chris Caputo’s sets and Jenny Senior’s costumes. Your patience, though, may be tested elsewhere, for the show glosses over much of the detail that makes the Dickens classic so rewarding.
The opening scene features most of this staging’s impressively sizable cast of 58 actors, many of them children, teens and young adults, as cheery London citizens bustling about on Christmas Eve.
Things get rolling, of course, when Scrooge (Dale Jones, alternating in the role with Cliff Senior) is visited by the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley (a soft-voiced and curiously unfrightening Jack Gilroy).
As a starting point for their lyrics and dialogue, Ahrens and Ockrent borrow verbatim from Dickens’ novella, then add lines of their own. One such strange choice occurs when the Ghost of Christmas Past (Melissa Cook) prefaces her tour of Scrooge’s early years by saying “This is your life!”
While most of the first act’s narrative is loose and disjointed, one welcome original touch is a scene that at least partly explains Scrooge’s miserly nature: As a child, he and his mother and sister watch helplessly as Scrooge’s dad is hauled off to debtor’s prison.
As effective are scenes in which Scrooge, in his nightgown and cap, watches his younger self take fatal missteps – as when he lets his only true love, the beautiful Belle (Carly Dederick), walk out of his life forever, prompting the older Scrooge to shout “fool!”
Jones is everything one would expect and could want in a Scrooge, with a choleric personality and reedy, growly voice to match. The moment of Scrooge’s conversion is stunning, as nearly the entire ensemble surrounds him, singing. As the new, reborn Scrooge, Jones is vital and animated, cackling wildly with joy.
Director Nelson portrays Christmas Present as a genial, pleasant spirit. Michael Hebler and Sylvia Tomaselli aptly portray the Fezziwigs as cheerful, kind, generous and life-loving. Jon Korbonski shows the twentysomething Scrooge as a normal, well-adjusted young adult (that is, caring and unselfish).
As is customary with many Rose Center productions, much of the play’s action unfolds on two elevated side stages which flank the main stage. Menken’s music is pleasant enough but is fairly standard musical theater fare, with no truly memorable songs.
Despite this drawback, the cast’s vocal work and dance skills are one of this staging’s pleasures. Daniel Sanchez charms with his lovely, haunting tenor as the 12-year-old Scrooge sings “A Place Called Home.” Vincent Aniceto and daughter Olivia are likewise moving as Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim sing “You Mean More To Me.” Melissa Cook’s pure soprano voice buoys “The Lights of Long Ago.”
Though not the all-out showstopper it’s meant to be, the Act I capper “Mr. Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball” is a festive number with dozens of elegantly, colorfully attired cast members delivering impressive dance work. The Act II song “Dancing On Your Grave” is genuinely clever, and about as dark as this show allows itself to get.
Rose Center’s bright, colorful staging is definitely for families and kids, and despite your familiarity with this revered tale, seeing an old grump reformed into a joyous soul never gets old.