The Arvada Center is presenting the regional premiere of A Christmas Carol: The Musical. This musical adaptation of the quintessential Christmas story features music by Alan Menken with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. The musical adaptation ran at Madison Square Garden each Christmas from 1994 to 2003, and was produced as a television musical (starring Kelsey Grammar) in 2004. The musical, of course peppers the familiar plot with individual and group musical numbers.
Menken and Ahrens Add Bounce to Christmas Classic
HE SAID: As much as it may tire some to see a handful of A Christmas Carol’s mounted every year, there really is a reason that it is the definitive christmas story. Using ghostly visits (terrifying and jovial) as catalysts for the transformative journey of the world’s grumpiest old man, the piece communicates the benefits of showing warmth, kindness, and generosity to everyone, especially during the holidays. There is adventure, drama, and comedy throughout the piece making it worthy of being produced every year. While this musical version of the story certainly offers a break from the norm, I find it also unfortunately presents a watered-down version of the masterpiece story.
SHE SAID: I definitely find the addition of music to this classic to be a welcome twist on the traditional presentation. Generally, I enjoy musicals and so I often forgive well-implemented production numbers that don’t fit perfectly into the story. In this case, the bouncy, pleasant musical style of Menken and Ahrens is much as you’d expect from the Disney end of the Broadway spectrum — enjoyable, but nothing incredibly special. Several of the songs were an efficient way to convey character (such as Scrooge’s “Nothing to Do With Me”) while others prolonged and complicated what could have been simple moments (such as Marley’s “Link by Link”).
Scrooges and Fezziwigs Lead Strong Cast
HE SAID: But see, the Jacob Marley scene may be simple, but its also can be scary when treated well, and the “bouncy, pleasant musical style” just didn’t work for the mood of the scene (as well as much of the show). The best meeting of music and mood was the Fezziwig Christmas Ball – an incredibly joyous, well choreographed number that entirely matched the spirited event from the story. On top of that, the scene ended with arguably the show’s best vocal moment with a trio between Scrooge (Joseph Dellger), Young Scrooge (Daniel Shevlin), and his lost love Emily (Brianna Firestone). Dellger was great throughout the story, but I couldn’t help feeling his depth made shallow a bit by the material, which then stifled the greatness of his transformation.
SHE SAID: The leading performers certainly had excellent voices. I really enjoyed Scrooge (both of ’em!) and Bob Cratchit (played by Matt Mueller). As HE mentioned,the Fezziwig Ball was a highlight of the show, largely due to the joyful spirits of Colin Hearn and Beth Flynn as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig. The chorus was consistently energetic and the choral sound was beautiful. For my taste, I thought that there were to many solo vocal moments featuring the children in the cast. This is no comment on these youngsters’ talent level, they had sweet and tuneful voices, but I just have a limited tolerance for children singing (oh no, does that make me Scroogette?).
Design Strives to Put Twist on Tradition
HE SAID: Overall, the design aspects were pleasant but each element had areas that felt incongruous. The lighting design was quite lovely and bright during the day time scenes, but the darker scenes didn’t bring as great of a change in mood as I hoped. The set design worked well, with a lovely standing portion as well as some great track pieces, but I wanted there to be a greater difference between the insides of Scrooge and Cratchit’s houses. I also wished there had been more magic during the time with ghosts. For instance, I felt too much rested on the use of the smoke machine during the scene with Christmas Past, especially given the venting issues that forced the smoke into the audience.
SHE SAID: I enjoyed most of the design elements as well. I thought the set and lighting choices were complex and interesting and captured the spirit of the story. The only elements I thought were a tad incongruous were the three ghosts — the Christmas Past was in a revealing, very modern-looking dress, and though she wore it well, I kept looking for other design elements that would make it fit, but it continued to stand out. Christmas Yet To Come, on the other hand, was so spooky and deathly that combined with her flying sequence, it seemed as though she was Fruma Sarah haunting Tevye more than anyone in A Christmas Carol. Perhaps these choices were based off of the original plot from Madison Square Garden, but it left me a little puzzled about the ghosts.
A Christmas Carol: the Musical Good Fit for Arvada Center
THEY SAID: Arvada Center’s choice to produce the Colorado premiere of A Christmas Carol: the Musical plays right into their wheelhouse. Its a well produced piece of musical theatre filled with a strong talented cast and some impressive designs. On top of that, it offers a bit of a break to those who like A Christmas Carol, but are tired of seeing the same production at the same theatre each year. If you are looking for a production that sticks closer to the mood of the classic story, then there might some other options for you to check out (see HERE). But if you are looking for the Scrooge story lightened up a bit with some bouncy musical numbers, then this production is definitely worth your while.
For more a full plot synopsis and history of the adaptations of A Christmas Carol, see the wikipedia article. A Christmas Carol presented by the Arvada Center plays through December 23. Click the banner below for tickets and more information.