"Scrooge! The Christmas Musical" - Leslie Bricusse - Calliope Productions (Boylston, MA.) - REVIEW

(Cover Photo: John Leslie in the title role of Ebenezer "SCROOGE" froCalliope Productions in Boylston, MA. now playing through December 10, 2023. Photo Credit Frank Josbacher)



By Kevin T. Baldwin

METRMAG Reviewer

# 774-242-6724

“Thank you very much! Thank you very much! That's the nicest thing that anyone's ever done for me." 

                                                                           - ("Tom Jenkins") / Leslie Bricusse

 

Calliope Productions

Presents 

"SCROOGE" 

The Christmas Musical!

Book, Music & Lyrics written by Leslie Bricusse 

Based on the 1970 holiday film and Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol"

Directed by David Ludt 

Assistant Director David Nestelbaum

Music Director Kris Layton 

Choreographer Karen White

Cast Includes: John Leslie as "Scrooge"; Rob Killeen as "Bob Cratchit"; Bethany Killeen as "Mrs. Cratchit"; James DeSisto as "Tiny Tim/Urchin/Student"; Teagan Killeen as "Kathy Cratchit/Urchin/Student"; Brynlee Killeen as "Martha Cratchit/Urchin/Student"; Jacob Terlaje as "Peter Cratchit/Urchin/Young Ebby"; Britten Bilodeau as "Thomas Cratchit/Urchin/Student"; Steven Sousa as "Jacob Marley/Ghost of Christmas Present/Ensemble"; Karen Josbacher as "Ghost of Christmas Past/Ensemble"; Erik Gladwin as "Tom Jenkins/Teacher/Topper/Ensemble"; John Bausch as "Mr. Fezziwig/Wine Merchant/Ensemble"; Beth Nolan Conners as "Mrs. Fezziwig/Bess/Ensemble"; Grant Arbour as "Scrooge's Nephew Harry/Ensemble"; Haniyah Kafel as "Harry's Wife Helen/Ensemble"; Michael Borowski as "Young Adult Ebenezer/Ensemble"; Katrina Ireland-Bilodeau as "Isabel Fezziwig/Mrs. Dilber/Ensemble"; David Bainbridge as "Ghost of Christmas Future/Pringle/Ensemble"; Diana Ciofari as "Mary/Harriet Harty/Ensemble"; Joan Stewart as "Jocelyn Jollygoode/Ensemble"; Kiley Kruger as "Miss Dilber/Jen/Phantom/Ensemble"; Graham LiPorto as "Dick Wilkins/Phantom/Ensemble"; Kim Napoleone as "Beggar Woman/Ensemble"; Doug Beller as "Bissett/Ensemble"; Abby Wren as "Ensemble"

Additional Creative Team:

Stage Managers - Doug Beller and Abby Wren; Stage Crew - Doug Beller, Abby Wren and Kelcey Beller; Lights/Sound - Dave Ludt and David Nestelbaum; Sets - Dave Ludt and Bob Reidy; Costumes - Donna Reidy; Wigs - Bethany Arsenault; Sound Effects - Al Dano; Box Office - Karen Josbacher; Props - Kim LiPuma.

Performances:

November 30, 2023 at 7:30pm

December 1, 2, 8 & 9, 2023 at 7:30pm

December 3 & 10, 2023 at 2:00pm

Calliope Theatre, 150 Main Street, in Boylston, MA.

Tickets: https://www.ticketstage.com/T/CALLIOPE

Contact the Box Office at 508-869-6887

COVID 19 PROTOCOLS

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Calliope Productions takes the town of Boylston both back in time and into the holiday season with the Herculean effort that comes with mounting the Leslie Bricusse musical "SCROOGE" which takes the beloved 1970 film adaptation to the stage. 

Like so many people "of a certain age" my earliest recollection of being exposed to the 1843 novella of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" was either the 1951 film adaptation starring Alistair Sim as the miserly skinflint "SCROOGE" or the 1938 film with Reginald Owen.

I'm lying. 

My first exposure to "SCROOGE" was, most likely, the animated "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" and, dammit, I enjoyed it a lot.

However, I am also old enough to remember first watching the 1970 film (starring the incomparable Albert Finney) in the movie theatre. 

Almost immediately, this was the filmed version that became "mine" - almost like with many of today's generation (including my now-grown kids) how they might consider "Muppet Christmas Carol" as "theirs."

Like so many of the superior film adaptations, the Finney film brought a straightforward, mature, ominous, occasionally even frightening quality to the story, much as some might imagine Dickens himself could have envisioned.

To counter this aspect came the Bricusse score, featuring some great tunes which were enjoyable then and still are still enjoyable to this day.

The Calliope Productions takes the latter aspect and runs with it thanks to the combined efforts of cast and crew under director Dave Ludt, assistant director David Nestelbaum, choreographer Karen White and music director Kris Layton.

Much like the character of SCROOGE, the Bricusse stage adaptation itself has had an unusual odyssey, making its debut in the early 90s with Anthony Newley as its star and also featuring "Doctor Who" alum Jon Pertwee.

The rights for the show would change hands multiple times, even disappearing completely for years, ultimately landing with the current rights holder Concord Theatricals

(Photo: John Leslie in the title role of Ebenezer "SCROOGE" standing with Karen Josbacher as the "Ghost of Christmas Past" in a scene froCalliope Productions' latest show now playing in Boylston, MA. through December 10, 2023. Photo Credit Frank Josbacher)

All the "bullet points" of the show's plot are here: 

The show opens with the entire cast singing in the streets of what could arguably be considered the definition of "Dickensian London." 

Miserly SCROOGE (John Leslie) loves money and hates people, which he eloquently conveys in the two appropriately-titled numbers, "Money" and "I Hate People."

For all his greed and blustery acrimony, nothing dissuades those around SCROOGE'S circle of influence from enjoying the Christmas holiday...even despite his ongoing intimidating tactics of threats of foreclosure and debtor's prison.

Two men who can still find holiday joy while being closest to the scorching circle of fire that is SCROOGE are his counting house clerk, Bob Cratchit (Rob Killeen) and nephew, Harry (Grant Arbour).

Cratchit, especially, has little to be thankful for as he struggles to maintain a household with his wife (Bethany Killeen) and several children, including the lovable but mortally ill son, Tiny Tim (James DeSisto).

Instead, though, Cratchit chooses to deflect the gloom and despair by focusing on holiday joy which he shares with his children and others in the song, "Christmas Children."

Killeen gives a solid performance as the oppressed yet undauntedly optimistic clerk.

Like his father, Tiny Tim never shows despair, only joy during Christmas, as he reflects musically in the delightfully rendered song, "The Beautiful Day," featuring a fine vocal performance by DeSisto.

(Photo: Katrina Ireland-Bilodeau as "Isabel Fezziwig" and Michael Borowski as "Young Adult Ebenezer "SCROOGE" froCalliope Productions in Boylston, MA. now playing through December 10, 2023. Photo Credit Frank Josbacher)

Through a series of hauntings, SCROOGE must either face his own mortality or accept a chance at redemption. 

The hauntings come courtesy of four spirits which include his former partner, Jacob Marley (Steven Sousa), the Ghost of Christmas Past (Karen Josbacher), the Ghost of Christmas Present (also played by Steven Sousa) and the Ghost of Christmas Future (David Bainbridge).

Most the spirits (minus the silent, solemn Ghost of Christmas Future) have musical moments when they shine, including Josbacher during "Love While You Can,Sousa with the (not Bob) Marley tune "Make the Most of This World" and later with the iconic "I Like Life" as the Ghost of Christmas Present. 

Another notable musical highlight includes the Act Two dance number, "Thank You Very Much,"  vibrantly executed by one of Scrooge's debtors, Tom Jenkins (Erik Gladwin) and the entire ensemble.

There are many things to enjoy about the script and the Calliope production, but there are also some curiosities that come with both. 

(Photo: Erik Gladwin as "Tom Jenkins" (center) in a celebratory mood with the CAST of the musical "SCROOGE" froCalliope Productions in Boylston, MA. now playing through December 10, 2023. Photo Credit Frank Josbacher)

First, as to the Bricusse script: 

To expand upon the movie's somewhat limited musical score, new songs were added, including the aforementioned  "Money" and "Love While You Can" along with a musical reimagining of "The Minister's Cat" (sung by the ensemble led by Diana Cifari as "Mary") and "It's Not My Fault" sung by John Leslie as "SCROOGE."

Some of the songs worked while others didn't really seem required, most notably "It's Not My Fault."  

Thankfully, though, one omitted number from the movie included the grizzly number "See the Phantoms" as "sung" by  Sir Alec Guinness. Guinness was actually supposed to have sung "Make the Most of This Life" but it was cut from the film and later restored for the stage musical.

Not to give too much away but, no matter what version of "Christmas Carol" you might have seen or read or heard, there is a singular plot twist toward the end of Act One which it is likely no one will see coming and which will have many people scratching heads going "Dear God - why?"  

It is an unexpected element that adds absolutely nothing to the story and an added perspective which absolutely seems forced into the story.

Also, for some reason, "I Like Life" - a marvelously joyous number originally coming in at the center of the original movie - has been reduced to an abbreviated duet sung by SCROOGE and the Ghost of Christmas Present, abruptly ending the first act without that sense of a much more satisfying large ensemble number. 

If not for the end of Act One, this might have made for a far more vibrant beginning to the show's second act.

The balance of the score, featuring music director Kris Layton accompanying on piano, is executed well by the principals and ensemble.

Costumes by Donna Reidy for the production are elegantly conducive to the Dickensian theme however some wigs, primarily for the men, appear a bit ill-fitted.

(Photo: John Leslie playing the title role of Ebenezer "SCROOGE" froCalliope Productions in Boylston, MA. now playing through December 10, 2023. Photo Credit Frank Josbacher)

Secondly, as to the Calliope production:

At some point, a decision was made to supplement the marvelous projected imagery along the back with actual flats to better depict certain locations such as the counting house or the Cratchit home. 

Unfortunately, those flats serve to detract not enhance. 

There are pivotal moments in the show which get interrupted by the movement of the flats onto or off the stage. 

This is NOT a fault of any stage crew or stage management. It is simply the case where a far more simplistic, bare minimum approach would have allowed for more fluidity of the overall piece.

The amount of impressive choreography provided by Karen White was additionally impacted with the larger ensemble numbers constricted by these panels, as well. 

When all is said and done, though, one cannot have a good "Christmas Carol" adaptation without a good SCROOGE and John Leslie is not just good, he is a superb SCROOGE

Leslie gives a delightfully nuanced portrayal, understanding and executing each line with careful thought and distinction. 

On stage for almost every moment of the two and a half hour musical, it is a simply marvelous performance, one that would have made Albert Finney, Anthony Newley and, oh heck, maybe even "Mr. Magoo" proud.

"SCROOGE"  continues in Boylston through December 10th and thanks to the "spirited" collective efforts by the cast, brings with it an unbridled enthusiasm worthy of the holidays.

Up next at Calliope in March, 2024 will be a joint effort with Pilgrim Soul Productions' and their staging of Brian Friel's "DANCING AT LUGHNASA." For tickets and more information, visit https://www.ticketstage.com/T/CALLIOPE or contact the Box Office at 508-869-6887.

Approximately two hours, 30 minutes with one intermission 

Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) 

@MetrmagReviews

@Theatre_Critics 

ABOUT THE SHOW

In this timeless musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," miserly Ebenezer Scrooge undergoes a profound experience of redemption over the course of a Christmas Eve night, after being visited by the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

In 1970, renowned writer/composer/lyricist Leslie Bricusse adapted the classic Dickens' tale "Christmas Carol" into the hit screen musical "SCROOGE!" 

Now a charming stage musical, "SCROOGE!"  has enjoyed a hugely successful tour of England and a season at London’s Dominion Theatre starring the late Anthony Newley

ABOUT CALLIOPE PRODUCTIONS 

CALLIOPE PRODUCTIONS is a year-round non-profit theatre company founded in 1982 that serves the needs and interests of audiences and performers in the Central Massachusetts region. CALLIOPE PRODUCTIONS presents six main-stage productions each year, and operates performance training workshops for students (ages 9 - 18) and adults. CALLIOPE PRODUCTIONS is a member of the American Association of Community Theatre, the Eastern Massachusetts Association of Community Theatres and the Worcester Cultural Coalition.

CALLIOPE PRODUCTIONS

150 Main Street

Boylston, MA 01505

508-869-6887

www.calliopeproductions.org