There are multiple versions of Dickens's A Christmas Carol running throughout the city this season. But one of the strangest has to be the musical Scrooge, written by Jim Bernhard and composed by Mark Holden, which takes great liberties with poor old Ebenezer's tale. The result, as seen in Theater Under the Stars's current production, is a bizarre though often entertaining mishmash of music, dance, electronic pyrotechnics and old-time Victorian moralizing.
Done in the round at the Arena Theatre and with minimal sets, this new interpretation hits on all required Dickensian moments. It also adds a few that no Victorian could have imagined. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future have been collapsed into one jive-talking song-and-dance man who wears a pink and silver sequined suit. He's supported by backup singers, with spiked hair and red-hot pants, who crawl out of Scrooge's bed to sing "Ghosts Are People, Too." To make matters weirder, the Ghost of Christmas (Rodney Hicks), as he is now called, escorts Scrooge (Gary Beach) through time via the World Wide Web.
Joining this newfangled Christmas ghost is the little old Cratchit family, rendered as old-fashioned as they come. In fact, when Mrs. Cratchit, played with maternal sweetness by Chesley Ann Santoro, sings "The Spirit of Christmas" in a warm, warbly soprano voice, the moment couldn't be more traditional.
runs through December 19 at the Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway,
Somehow these two very different interpretations manage to occupy the same stage without too much discomfort. Most of the success of the show has to do with its two leads. Beach's delightful Scrooge fairly wiggles with physical humor. After the old curmudgeon has learned his lesson, he decides he's going to laugh for the first time in years. Beach is hilarious as he goes through the tentative motions of "hee-hee" and "ha-ha" then full-out grinchy giggles. Likewise, Hicks is a serious stitch as he snakes around the stage conjuring up various magical moments. He leads the cast in grand style through the showstopping "Send Him Down," in which the townsfolk reveal just how much they despise the old miser. The revival song about where Scrooge is headed if he doesn't mend his ways is the highlight of this strange night.
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Scrooge runs through December 19 at the Arena Theater, 7326 Southwest Freeway, (800)678-5440. $16-$55.