Scrooge The Musical, Pick Me Up Theatre, Grand Opera House, York, until Sunday, December 1. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york
FOR years and years, Pick Me Up Theatre artistic director Robert Readman has applied for the performing rights for Scrooge The Musical, more in hope than expectation.
This year, at last, the answer was affirmative, and so Readman reckons he must be the first director/producer to stage Leslie Bricusse’s musical on this scale since Bill Kenwright’s long-running tour show.
Those were the days with Tommy Steele in the lead, with songs specially added for his knees-up brand of showmanship, but Readman has restored the 1992 score, when Bricusse transferred his 1970 film musical to the stage as a vehicle for Anthony Newley, six new songs and all. Back come the likes of Good Times, the best in the show, says Readman.
Ironically, if anything, there are too many songs, or, more precisely, there are not many memorable songs, making it feel like too many.
This is in part because the dialogue is largely true to Charles Dickens’s novel, save for the occasional modernism, and you wish for rather more of it, but another song is always nudging it out of the way.
While you could not call it a “sung-through musical”, it is veering towards that style, yet the great joy of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol lies in its storytelling and the myriad ways of presenting it, whether James Swanton’s one-man show, Alexander Wright’s pub supper two-hander with audience participation or Deborah McAndrew’s beautifully resonant adaptation for Hull Truck Theatre.
Readman goes for spectacle, garland upon garland of snowy white flowers decorating the stage; a huge door; a big four-poster bed; loud, very loud, sound effects for Jacob Marley’s entry, rattling chains et al; echoing voices; a company of more than 40; and two flying sequences. One for Tony Froud’s Marley; the other for Rory Mulvihill’s Ghost of Christmas Present and Mark Hird’s Ebenezer Scrooge, where they are held in suspense rather more than this ghost story holds us, in the absence of more darkness.
Hird’s diminutive Scrooge carries the last residue of his wonderful Captain Mainwaring in Pick Me Up’s Dad’s Army, and consequently he is humorous from the start, full of bluster rather than the coldness of a blasted heath. You find yourself liking him, even when he is mithering and being miserly, rather like Rowan Atkinson’s penny-pinching Mr Bean, but Scrooge’s transformation is still highly enjoyable in his impish hands.
What’s more, his scenes with Young Ebenezer (Frankie Bounds) and his lost true love, Isabel (Jennie Wogan), and later with Bob Cratchit (Alan Park), Tiny Tim (Sonny Love) and the Cratchit family, are poignant to the core. Bounds, by the way, is the pick of the young talents, with a lovely singing voice in Happiness, while Olivia Caley, as the Ghost of Christmas Past, definitely has a future.
Look out too for Flo Poskitt’s comic cameo as Ethel Cratchit: not for the first time this year, she gives a peach of a supporting performance. Maybe next year, a director will reward her with an overdue lead.
Mulvihill amuses by lounging like Jacob Rees-Mogg in the House of Commons, in his Christmas green silks and ermine; Sam Johnson leads his musical forces with customary skill, and Iain Harvey and Readman’s choreography has most fun when Andrew Isherwood’s Tom Jenkins leads the stand-out Thank You Very Much.
Overall, however, while it may feel “Bah Humbug” to say it, by Pick Me Up standards, this Scrooge falls short of a Christmas cracker.