Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Musical Carol

Madison Square Gardens had a popular stage version of A Christmas Carol that ran from 1994 to 2003. I recall seeing the number "Mr. Fezziwig's Annual Christmas Ball" performed at a parade. In 2004, it received an adaptation for television.

Unfortunately, it feels like it was meant for the stage. Kelsey Grammer plays Scrooge and it feels as if he was brought in just for name value. Jason Alexander plays Marley and Jennifer Love Hewitt plays Emily, Scrooge's girlfriend who has been curiously renamed. Jane Krakowski, Jesse L. Martin (the original Tom Collins from RENT) and Geraldine Chaplin play the three ghosts. The ghosts also appear at the beginning and end as a lamplighter, a sandwich board man, and an old woman who is supposed to be blind, though she seems to make some very good eye contact.

Apparently, Madison Square had their Ghost of Christmas Past played by a man and some feel this production broke tradition. I had no problems, but I couldn't help but feel the songs in the section were forgettable. A big example of a number translated poorly from stage to screen is "Mr. Fezziwig's Annual Christmas Ball." The repeated "rat tat tat tat tat" feels silly on screen, while when it is being done by live performers in front of you, it's rousing. Even Mrs. Fezziwig repeating the title line just feels ridiculous: shouldn't the guests know where they are?

I can't find the scene from the film on YouTube, but here is the number on stage.

Christmas Past has been heavily altered: the only scene directly from Dickens' book is Fezziwig's ball. Scrooge's father is taken to jail and Scrooge goes to work as a child. Later, when he and Marley open their firm, they deny Fezziwig a loan to save his business, deeming it an unwise investment. This display of greed over compassion is what prompts Emily to end her engagement with Scrooge. I'm always leery when adaptations rewrite entire portions of the story. While the scene with Fezziwig in trouble is actually not bad, it's retrodden ground that was done much better in 1951. Also, making Scrooge a hard person so early seems quite unwise. This makes him quite set in his ways and an overnight conversion less likely. The point of Dickens is that Scrooge had lost his way: this makes it look like he hasn't had it in a long time.

The Ghost of Christmas Present opens with a number called "Abundance and Charity," which on film feels too long and doesn't really bear on the plot. When a number stops the story, then its inclusion needs to be questioned. I'm sure on stage (I believe it was originally performed to be a rousing tap dance) it was quite rousing, but on screen, it's just taking a break the audience doesn't need, especially since they'll also have commercials. This is just about the only real problem with this part.

The Ghost of Christmas "Yet To Be" is the biggest deviation from Dickens: it is, instead, an old woman who remains mute, but manages to gesture. The future scenes are rushed onscreen into a single sequence in the graveyard: even Old Joe is there, which is an odd thing indeed for film. But we do get probably the best song in the film here in "God Bless Us Everyone," even though I find the way it is executed implausible for film.

The London scenes definitely say that the film was based on a play. We never see the office of Scrooge and Marley. Instead, the opening and closing acts takes place mainly outside, suggesting that this is how it was done onstage.

In the end, this version is unimpressive, particularly since Scrooge's story has been expanded on better in the 1951 version with Alastair Sim, and Mr. Magoo, Albert Finney and the Muppets have provided excellent musical versions (with better songs) already.

Overall, skip it.

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