Mostly for commercial reasons, the West End doesn’t experience live music with an orchestra as large as the 31-strong LMTO (London Musical Theatre Orchestra) often enough these days. This concert of Alan Menken, Lynn Ahrens and Mike Ockrent’s musical adaptation of the Charles Dickens novella A Christmas Carol is beautiful. Almost too beautiful. The score could, in all honesty, been a little more – well, ghostly – given that there aren’t any substantial or surprising changes to the storyline as many people know it.
Here, Robert Lindsay’s Ebenezer Scrooge doesn’t quite capture the essence of being truly terrified of Jacob Marley (Norman Bowman), or rather Marley’s ghost. Lindsay’s Scrooge is more at home being heartless than being hearty. This is not a deficiency in character development. Quite the contrary: it takes some getting used to being a ‘goodie’ having been a ‘baddie’ for so long, and a less than instantly polished change in personality and outlook gives Scrooge more nuance and depth than a lazy ‘ta-da!’ moment. Not for nothing are there four ghosts (including Marley’s) required to change Scrooge’s approach to Christmas.
This Scrooge is strangely likeable even at his grumpiest, providing an almost refreshing alternative viewpoint to the unrelenting gladness all around him. “For goodness sake, child, shut up and let me pass!” is not the sort of line that would usually elicit laughter, but when it’s delivered with such convincing assertion, what’s not to like? I think it is down to many (but by no means all) Londoners rushing around in the way that we do, that makes that line, and others like it, so relatable, even if we’ve metaphorically transported ourselves from 2016 to 1843. In essence, he’s not all that scary. Maybe that is in keeping with the family-friendly nature of this show.
As ever with concert presentations of musicals, there are moments of what would be choreographed dance that instead simply have the orchestra going at full tilt, allowing the audience to enjoy the score for what it is. Not that there wasn’t any choreography. An early scene involving door-knocking had a percussionist and performer in perfect sync, and with such a large cast and ensemble coming and going, it’s a surprise nobody knocked into one another.
The child actors more than hold their own against a stellar adult cast. In particular, Tobias Ungleson’s Tiny Tim sings with such clarity and sentiment. As for the ghosts, I warmed to Madalena Alberto’s Christmas Past, and Carrie Hope Fletcher’s Christmas Future was (to me, at least) a surprisingly small part. Thankfully, Fletcher did play multiple characters over the course of the evening’s proceedings. The gentlemen in the company did very well, with Alex Gaumond’s Bob Cratchit portraying a ridiculously optimistic but not in any way annoying character. John Addison as Young Scrooge (and other characters) and Hugh Maynard as Christmas Present had parts that allowed them to fully demonstrate their admirable vocals. I’d have liked to have seen (and heard!) a bit more of Peter Polycarpou, musical theatre stalwart that he is, but then Fezziwig always was a relatively minor character.
At the interval, some fellow theatregoers pointed out that parts of the score had been done before, but couldn’t think of what show it was. With the benefit of some hindsight, I suggest The Hunchback of Notre Dame. A lot of the musical numbers work well, especially larger ensemble tunes like ‘Link By Link’ and ‘Christmas Together’. An extended show-stopping finale and encore almost had A Christmas Carol giving Dreamgirls a run for its money in terms of the number of standing ovations. A sublime seasonal alternative to pantomime, this is another resounding success for the LMTO, once more under the baton of the ever-energetic Freddie Tapner.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Charles Dickens’ classic gets the full Broadway treatment buy the Broadway team of Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid), Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Seussical) and Mike Ockrent (Crazy For You, Me and My Girl). Called by The New York Times “a tonic for adults, and for children a transfixing journey,” this spectacular musical extravaganza ran for ten years at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Featuring a star studded West End cast, this concert production of A Christmas Carol marks its London premiere with the London Musical Theatre Orchestra.