A Strange and Spooky Scrooge

jon osbaldeston and marla mclean. photo by scott munn

A year ago I wrote a Christmas Wish for the future of Halifax’s regional theatre, Neptune, the place where I first remember being mesmerized by the power of a stage filled with accomplished and dynamic performers (Les Miserables, 1994). In December 2008, Neptune Theatre was in transition between former Artistic Director Ron Ulrich and current Artistic Director George Pothitos. As I sat in the audience for A Christmas Carol and watched Deborah Allen, Sheldon Davis, Ian Gilmore, Cliff LeJeune, Marla McLean, and Margot Sampson fill the stage, my heart was immediately warmed with the hope that Neptune Theatre was sending a message that this regional theatre is dedicated to the creation of theatre for the people of Nova Scotia by the people of Nova Scotia.

A Christmas Carol– the Musical playing at Neptune Theatre until January 3rd, 2010 marks a rare occurrence for this theatre because this particular adaptation of Dickens’ novel has been created especially for Neptune and features an original score by Eric Hughes. The musical remains extremely faithful to the original novel, capturing much of the darkness of a world whose pungent underbelly teems with ignorance and want. Hughes’ music is catchy, often with strong lilts that allude to traditional Christmas Carols. His lyrics are especially tight and cleverly constructed as to not stray too far from the novel’s text. In all, this musical is a heart-warming one with some beautiful and truly magical moments. Geofrey Dinwiddie’s set is imposing, but somehow makes the stage appear cosier, and it is filled with magic tricks and special effects that will jar and awe you.

Jon Osbaldeston gives a very interesting performance as Ebenezer Scrooge, the old miser who must learn through confronting his own past and the misfortunes of others the power of kindness and charity in cultivating a better world. This Scrooge does not tramp about the stage hollering at do-gooders and simmering with enough rage to cook a goose for all twelve days of Christmas. Instead, he remains cold and distant and utterly composed throughout the first half of the play. There is something especially chilling about this Scrooge because when the miser is played filled with fiery anger, we see the passion in him, there is a sense that he does care, but that he has simply given up on the world’s potential for happiness, but that this still angers him, still frustrates him. Often, as is the case in many adaptations of this story, Scrooge’s grouchiness lends itself to humour, which softens him, despite his bitterness, in our hearts. Osbaldeston’s Scrooge seems utterly devoid of any feeling. I think this interpretation is a fascinating one, but one that could have benefited from more precise pacing in this instance. At times it seems as though this Scrooge’s cold heart melts too quickly, at times his epiphanies and especially his reactions to the atrocious and ghastly sights that surround him seem a mite subdued. Osbaldeston has an incredibly beautiful voice, which is haunting especially in a fantastic (if slightly random) soliloquy song near the end of the show, and he is able to tie the inconsistencies up as he captures the spirit of Christmas with gentle blitheness just before the curtain falls.

The rest of the cast is richly Dickensian. Sheldon Davis looks identical to the photograph from the novel as the Ghost of Christmas Present and is a nice mixture between gluttonous and portentous. Margot Sampson gives a beautiful portrayal of Mrs. Cratchit, her eyes filled with a combination of fierce love for her family and a heartbreaking sadness for the plight of her youngest son, the crippled Tiny Tim. There is this fantastic scene, the funniest in the show, where Sheldon Davis, Deborah Allen, Cliff LeJeune (who plays the spoons!) and Laura Caswell, as an assortment of colourful characters, ransack the dead Scrooge’s house amid much silliness, joyful dancing and musical theatre bliss.

The one issue I had with Pothitos’ adaptation is that I felt that there was not adequate time allotted to the development of certain important relationships, such as the relationship between Boy Scrooge and his sister, Fan, the relationship between Young Man Scrooge and his love Belle, and the relationship between Tiny Tim and his father Bob Cratchit. These moments all felt rushed and therefore I did not feel as invested in these three stories as I have in the past.

My favourite aspect of this show was undoubtedly the children, their sweet voices and bright, glowing faces immediately rooted this story for me straight in the heart. These young performers (Dunnery Bond, Gwyneth Christoffel, Amelia Cruddas, Nathaniel Dooks, Gabrielle Doucet, Benjamin Hussey, Dominique LeBlanc, Duncan MacDonald, Emily Power, Emily Robertson and Mahalia Smith) are all incredibly talented. Dunnery Bond, as Boy Scrooge, sings the loveliest song in the show, the whimsical “Robinson Crusoe,” which makes his voice sound most exquisite. Mahalia Smith is utterly captivating as a young caroller. Dominique LeBlanc’s voice soars with striking resonance even in the ensemble and Benjamin Hussey is utterly endearing as Tiny Tim.

The essence of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale is rooted in the potential for change to come to even the oldest and bitterest among us and the hope for the future innate in the young, innocent and sincere. A Christmas Carol– the Musical, for me, epitomized both of these things as Neptune Theatre begins a fresh chapter of its history. I feel blessed that many of my 2008 Christmas wishes for this theatre appear to be coming true. I am anxious to see how the rest of the season unfolds. If these children are any indication of what The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has in store for the theatre in this city, it looks as though the future will be merry and bright indeed.

A Christmas Carol– The Musical plays at Neptune Theatre (located on the corner of Argyle and Sackville Streets in Halifax, Nova Scotia) until January 3rd, 2010. For tickets and more information please visit www.neptunetheatre.com or call 902.429.7070.

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