Following last year’s success, the London Musical Theatre Orchestra has returned to give two more performances of a musical version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Written by Alan Menken, Lynn Ahrens and Mike Ockrent, it is a two-and-a-bit-hour show that was first performed over 20 years ago in New York and now calls the Lyceum Theatre its temporary home.
The story begins on Christmas Eve at the Royal Exchange, where they’re just about to close early for Christmas. Pleas to Scrooge for sympathy and extra time to make repayments fall on deaf ears, however, as he declares Christmas a humbug – and tries to make people see his view on the harsh realities of life. Though he does give his faithful clerk early pay and the following day off. And you all know what happens next… After shutting himself in for the night, he is visited first by the ghost of Jacob Marley (his former business partner) and then the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present & Future, as they all seek to change his cold, uncaring ways.
1992’s film version with The Muppets is a famously good example of an original musical version of this story, however stage productions tend to be either straight plays, or plays with a bit of music, so it’s nice to know that there is a decent stage musical version out there. Whilst putting the show on in this manner is a great way to allow the music to truly shine, by the end you can’t help but wish for a fully stage production to be put on. This is a credit to Freddie Tapner and his orchestra.
Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens’ book does well to incorporate some of the most famous lines from the source material, but manages to retain an overall sense of originality – thanks in part to there being more songs than speeches. Including some extra characters (such as Mr Smythe and his daughter, Grace) adds colour, as there’s no harm in tweaking things slightly to put your own stamp on it. I do find it odd that Scrooge’s former fiancée’s named is changed from Belle to Emily though – especially as that’s commonly the given name of Bob Cratchit’s wife.
Alan Menken’s score is as dreamy as you’d expect from a prolific Disney composer, the orchestra really evoking the feel of Victorian London in the throes of the festive period. The slightly anachronistic, but no less welcome, Abundance and Charity is a real highlight; the Ghost of Christmas Present introduces himself big band style! It’s a toe-tapper that fits completely with his character. Menken also tugs on the heartstrings, with Bob and Tiny Tim’s closeness being set out early on in You Mean More To Me.
The 16-strong chorus is used well – most of the time they are stood at the back, but do occasionally venture down to the front of the stage to give you something more to watch. They’re backing a cast of seasoned musical theatre performers (and up & coming child stars), and together they really bring the show to life.
Michael Xavier and Tobias Ungleson make a terrific Bob and Tiny Tim team, with the latter showing all the hallmarks of being a scene-stealer of the future! He’s probably taking notes from the queen of scene stealing, Sophie-Louise Dann, who creates memorable versions of Mrs Fezziwig and Mrs Mop (Mrs Dilber in the novella). Hugh Maynard is also perfectly cast as the Ghost of Christmas Present, clearly relishing his introductory number – even bringing a little bit of dancing to proceedings.
Robert Lindsay is ideal as the leading man in a musical version of A Christmas Carol. He really gets into the bad-tempered side of his character from the off (entering through the audience with Xavier as Bob), keeping it up even when going back to take a seat. Then, of course, the change in mood plays into his hands as a comic actor – and he’s obviously got the voice the part. His comedy timing is impeccable throughout, and he gives the definite sense of a miser reformed.
My verdict? An evening full of festive cheer, proving that a good story never goes out of fashion – the performances are all superb.
A Christmas Carol (LMTO) runs at the Lyceum on 11 & 18 December 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office.