PLAY REVIEW : Musical 'Scrooge' Rates a Few Bahs

"Scrooge: The Musical," at Musical Theatre Village, is not "Scrooge," the musical. The new "Scrooge" is something different from the Leslie Bricusse musical best known in its screen version starring Albert Finney. In fact, the new "Scrooge" is something different, period.

For one thing, director Denise Fenton's adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" keeps enormous chunks of the original story--enormous for a musical.

For another, David A. Lewis' music and lyrics are sometimes as Victorian as a Debbie Allen number, and the anachronism is doubly strange since the cast is nearly all young teens and preteens, playing 19th century dress-up while singing vaguely mod-pop material.

And for yet another, the show's song score is original except for an occasional Yule carol . . . and Bricusse's bouncy anthem, "Thank You Very Much," from his "Scrooge." Not only that, but the Bricusse tune is uncredited in the program, making those in the audience who are unaware believe it is an original for this "Scrooge."

So . . . whose "Scrooge" is it, anyway?

Well, in number terms, it's 98% Lewis' and Fenton's, and 2% Bricusse's. This is like creating a new musical about the life of Jesus but grabbing "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from "Jesus Christ Superstar" and inserting it in with no credit. To put it mildly, there are restrictions against such a thing, and it's especially unseemly when it involves a children's Christmas musical. But because it is a children's Christmas musical, there's an occasionally charming innocence to this version.

The kids, mainly drawn from the Mission Viejo area, look a little stage-frozen from time to time. Still, some of them--like the graceful Ashley Weber as the tiny Ghost of Christmas Past and Brian King's Tiny Tim--are just the magic the show needs. Everyone is awake, alert and on their cues.

The older actors are less magical. Harley Bertrum's Scrooge (alternating with Chuck Verburg) is too obviously a teenage boy mimicking an old grouch, and he has a hard time carrying a tune.

Robin Gonzales' Bob Cratchit can't grab our sympathy, which puts this tale in a bind. Small pleasures come unexpectedly from Diane Flemming and Kristin Levoy playing the usually forgotten characters of Mrs. Dilber and Little Liza with relish.

Kids might get into this Dickens version if only the songs were, simply, more fun. Perhaps Lewis thought he could draw in the kids with an up-tempo pop style, but it's generally the wrong music in the wrong place, and generally dull as well. Even a tune (the titles are unlisted in the program) that mixes ghosts, swirling dancing and strobes comes off as stumbling rather than scary.

Despite Fenton's detailed adaptation--including many of Scrooge's character quirks omitted in the Bricusse version--the show clocks in at a child-friendly 90 minutes. Too bad it isn't Bricusse-friendly.

* "Scrooge: The Musical," Musical Theatre Village, Suite 612, 23891 Via Fabricante, Mission Viejo. Tonight, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 2:30 and 7 p.m. Ends Saturday. $6 to $9. (714) 768-0123.

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