Twitter Plot Summary: It’s the old Dickens festive story told again. This time, with lots of singing and dancing.
For those of us who are somewhat cynical, you might argue that a musical edition of A Christmas Carol was already provided adequately by The Muppets in their 1992 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ festive tale of redemption.
On viewing this 2004 musical that cynicism appears to have been well founded.
This is yet another mostly faithful adaptation of the text, albeit with more songs than is absolutely necessary (but then it is a musical after all), a transition to Scrooge working at the stock exchange, and a faint whiff of “Made for TV” about the whole thing. The only real diversions from the text are deemed necessary to suit the songs, but otherwise this is almost entirely the same story you have seen over and over again.
Still, we have a veritable bounty of popular names involved. First and foremost is Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge, Jason Alexander as the ghostly Marley, and then rounded out by Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jane Krakowski and Geraldine Chaplin in supporting roles. Grammer is rather good as Scrooge, a hunched figure who has allowed his bitterness to rule every decision he makes – just try and ignore the fact he was once Frasier. When he does ultimately decide to change his ways (because that’s the whole point of the story, of course), the transformation is subtle but one that works surprisingly well due to its simplicity – and that is because he just stands up normally at the very end. Simple as that, and very effective.
There’s also ample opportunity for Krakowski, Jess L Martin (the chap who played Tom Collins in Rent) and Chaplin to flex their acting muscles as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future accordingly. They actually double up on their roles, also playing versions of the spirits whom Scrooge meets on the streets shortly before his night of ghostly meetings takes place. Their versions of the spirits are an interesting, if not entirely successful twist on the formula. Krakowski’s Ghost of Christmas Past is more akin to a pantomime version of Peter Pan than anything else, pole dancing on Scrooge’s bed in an ill-judged moment. Martin has a more traditional approach to Christmas Present, and it’s nice to see Ignorance and Want lurking beneath his cloak. Chaplin plays a Christmas Future who is far different to our usual expectation. Rather than hidden beneath vast robes she is instead completely visible, a pale but still resolutely mute spectre.
Some of the songs have a bit of gusto behind them but it’s one of those musicals where most of the tunes have a very familiar and repetitive edge whereby they don’t have opportunity to stand out. A couple of breakout tunes aside, it’s musicals like this that make you realise how talented the likes of Jonathan Larson (Rent), Galt MacDermot (Hair) and even Andrew Lloyd Webber are. They all jumble together into one big song in my mind – not a good sign.
It might not be a great adaptation, but it hits the appropriate marks where it needs to, and embellishes the established text where it makes sense for this interpretation. I didn’t get the same feeling from this as I have from other adaptations of the story. On the whole it felt cold and lacking in emotional depth. It’s a shame really because there are many aspects of A Christmas Carol that could work very well under better circumstances.