Filled with enough whistleable tunes to keep you happy on the way home, this production is a rumbustious, colourful, and cheery show that Dickens himself would certainly have enjoyed. And it’s invested with all the cheeky charm you’d expect from Shane Richie. Virtually unrecognizable beneath wig and face powder, Richie plays the grumpy old man with a broadly comic air. It’s a confident, engaging and faultless performance. You may remember the Albert Finney film or Anthony Newley’s ‘90s stage version. But Richie makes the part his own, revelling in his centre stage chance to sing and dance – but also generously allowing everyone else to shine as well. More like a rich Steptoe than the covetous old sinner of the book, he nails the comedy perfectly. Surprisingly he also wrings out some well-judged emotion too – remonstrating with his younger self for losing his love, Isabel, in the haunting Happiness. Backed by a gung-ho cast in flawless support, every scene works just as it should.
Nifty illusions and how-did-they-do-that tricks herald the arrival of Marley and the ghost of Christmas Past. Whether appearing from nowhere in a chair or disappearing into a mirror, you don’t see it coming, thanks to illusionist Paul Kieve (hot from working on the Harry Potter movies). The sets themselves are a delight - simple and clever touches transforming a London street into apartments, garrets and graveyards. It’s a rich production, lush with eye-catching detail and fun choreography.
Sometimes the New Theatre’s acoustics muffle musicals too much, losing the words. On this occasion, thanks to spot-on amplification and a talented cast, the words are as clear as a bell. All the songs are milked, standouts being December the 25th, I Like Life, Tiny Tim’s The Beautiful Day and the most famous Thank You Very Much, in which Scrooge unknowingly dances on his own coffin (it’s funnier than it sounds).
If there’s a purist’s quibble, it’s that Bricusse’s Scrooge waters down Ebenezer’s cold-heartedness and his knee-quaking fear of the Ghosts. So Richie’s turnaround isn’t very dramatic. And it’s a liberty that the Ghost of Christmas Past is given a face from Scrooge’s own past. But hey this is a musical. So while the youngest may be unnerved by the arrival of Marley and his band of ghoulish spirits – their dance number will make them smile.
Scrooge is hugely enjoyable for adults and kids alike. But if you’re an Ebenezer, not liking Christmas, musicals or Shane Richie, give it a go. On this showing, you’ll probably come out liking all three.