Friday, December 4, 2015

"Scrooge in Love"

Scrooge in Love
Larry Grossman (Music), Kellen Blair (Lyrics), Duane Poole (Book)

Ryan Drummond & Jason Graae
We are rarely left to wonder what happens to our favorite characters after a blockbuster movie ends because a sequel is usually not too long in coming to update us and continue the tale.  (Think Godfather, Toy Story, Men in Black, Kung Fu Panda, and every super hero ever.)  On the stage, we rarely get to see the after-story (Sondheim’s In the Woods a famous exception), but 42nd Street Moon Theatre now premieres a musical by an all-star creation team to remedy that for one of the most infamous holiday characters of all time, Ebenezer Scrooge.  With music by award-winning composer Larry Grossman (Minnie’s Boys, Goodtime Charley), lyrics by Drama Desk-nominated Kellen Blair (Murder for Two), book by Outer Critics’ Circle nominee Duane Poole (A Christmas Memory), the Moon stages Scrooge in Love -- a feast of hummable tunes, clever lyrics, and a story both funny and heart-warming, all coming to 1844 London life by a talented cast and top-notch production team.

As holiday wassailers sing outside his window the rousing “Carol (Like a Person in Love”), Ebenezer Scrooge in night cap and gown settles into his Christmas Eve bed, only to be abruptly aroused by his dead, but still ghost- in-chains friend, Jacob Marley.  The black-lipped, ashen-faced Marley has reappeared one year after his first famous, haunting visit to ask one question of Scrooge, “Are you happy?”  Scrooge, a bit annoyed (“Is this to be annual holiday chat?”), soon discovers that in fact he is about to time travel yet again this Christmas Eve to his past, present, and future – this time not to scare him into generosity, but instead to entice him out of loneliness and into love.

On and Off Broadway veteran (A Grand Night for Singing, Falsettos, Forever Plaid, etc.) and 42nd Street Moon favorite (Little Me) Jason Graae steps into Scrooge’s floppy socks and over-sized slippers, dons his bifocals, and fills the giant role with his spry, diminutive frame with gleeful gusto and grace.  When singing, he sparkles in songs like “In Just One Year” and “Happier,” where he is convincing both the spirits and himself that his constant smiling and whistling does mean he is much happier that before.  He also tugs at hearts and creates a mood of reflection that leads even to audience self-examinations in songs like “The Things You Should Have Done,” where he relooks at his life and the choices made and not made at critical turning-point moments.  With a fine singing voice and English diction, a face that lights up in dozens of caricatured and nuanced ways, and light-on-his-feet moves made whether dancing or ‘flying’ through time, Mr. Graae creates a Scrooge that surely fits the mold and more of all audience members’ expectations.

Equally strong is Ryan Drummond as the chain-rattling specter Jacob Marley, devoted even in his wandering after-life to the well-being of his earthly friend, Scrooge.  With an intense voice full of pleasant overtures, Marley warns in song to Scrooge, “There are hours in between, between every ‘Good Evening’ and ‘Good Day’ ...where there is no cause to raise a glass … only time that needs to pass.”   Throughout, Mr. Drummond provides both wonderful moments of comedy and of caring as he prods Scrooge toward a renewed relationship with a long-lost love. 

A Look at a Day from Ebenezer's Past

Helping Marley in his task are three other ghosts, quite familiar to Scrooge and to us.  Christmas Past arrives this time all giggles as a bubbly blonde in short, fringed dress, singing in mocked opera aria style, “I Love Love.”  Elise Youseff is delightful as the hyper but well-intentioned spirit who takes Ebenezer to a typical day of his past (much to his chagrin that “This is not a regular day”) when his younger self meets, falls in love, and then lets get away from him his first and only love, Belle.  Kalon Thibodeaux almost steals the show as the awkward, fumbling Young Scrooge as attempts to dance for the first time (“My feet have ... no musicality”) and as he also shows silent, pained expressions of regret as he is losing his Belle to a rival.  Together with Belle (Melissa Reinertson), the two duet on the lovely “You’re Safe with Me,” a number later to be ably reprised by the much-older Scrooge and Belle. 

In a candle-rich hat of green wreath and a gold and green royal robe, Will Springhorn, Jr. brings a glittering beard, tinkling bells, bombastic laughter, and a rich baritone voice to his Ghost of Christmas Present, admonishing Scrooge, “Do It Now.”  Without uttering a word or ever showing his face behind an ominous hooded robe of black, David Naughton nevertheless finds many avenues to bring humor, fear, and even empathy to his towering Ghost of Christmas Future.  Taking Scrooge to his future graveside where a grieving Belle hovers, this Ghost looks on with darkened amusement behind his shroud as Ebenezer dances a jig, singing, “Who knew by dying, I’d feel so alive?” (part of the witty lyrics of “Sad I’m Dead). 

Of course, the Cratchit family appears in the story (including the adorable pipsqueak Michael Grasso as the now-walking Tiny Tim) along with several other friends of Scrooge, both past and present – all singing and dancing along the way under the astute direction of Music Director Dave Dobrusky and Choreographer Staci Arriaga.  Plush period dresses, hats, shoes, and shawls along with the amusing and eye-catching outfitting of the Ghosts are the result of Rebecca Valentino’s creativity.  A set that highlights clocks and versatility is well designed by Hector Zavala and is shown off well in day, night, and ghost flight by Lighting Designer Danny Maher.  Everything is kept moving with aplomb by Director Dyan McBride, who particularly makes good use of background scene freezes to add to the fun of it all.

The perky, toe-tapping chords of the night’s overture (as played so masterfully by Dave Dobrusky on piano, Ami Hashimoto on cello, and Ken Brill on synth) set a tone that permeates the entire Scrooge in Love.  There is no way smiles can be avoided throughout this well-written, well-executed premiere by 42nd Street Moon.  And there is no way any one should hesitate kicking off the holiday season with this uplifting update to a well-loved Christmas tale.

Rating: 4 E’s

Scrooge in Love continues through December 13, 2015 at 42nd Street Moon, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at or by calling the box office at 415-255-8207.

Photos by Patrick O’Connor

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