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A CurtainUp Review
A Christmas Carol — The Musical
by Adrienne Onofri

Tim Curry
I consider the 1970 movie Scrooge, with Albert Finney, to be the all-time best version of A Christmas Carol. . . and that includes the oft-cited Alastair Sim film. Finney is second-to-none as Ebenezer, and his film has beautiful period detail and a good score. It's also been underappreciated both as holiday entertainment and a movie musical.

I mention this because I just saw (for the first time) A Christmas Carol — The Musical, the Radio City-produced spectacle that's back at Madison Square Garden for the eighth December in a row. This show has become one of New York's holiday traditions and been warmly received by audiences and many critics. Despite its extravagance, verve and obvious popularity, the Finney movie retains its standing with me as the ideal musical adaptation of the Dickens classic.

There are praiseworthy aspects of A Christmas Carol— The Musical particularly the set, which is also re-created in the lobby, complete with 19th-century-attired carolers and buskers (as well as 21st-century souvenir stands). "Link by Link," the glow-in-the-dark number featuring dancing, and in some cases "flying," phantoms, is cute. Having the three Ghosts of Christmas appear earlier, in slightly different form, as townspeople who speak to Scrooge is a nice touch. And the show's signature effect--a snowfall on stage and in the audience--is certainly fun, as is the candy tossed to audience members.

Most impressive of all may be the show's pedigree: It boasts the work of uber-choreographer Susan Stroman; direction by Mike Ockrent, Stroman's Tony-nominated late husband and collaborator; and the contribution of Broadway's top designers, from Tony Walton on sets, to Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer on lights, to William Ivey Long on costumes. The music was written by Disney mainstay Alan Menken, and lyrics by Tony winner Lynn Ahrens. Broadway maestro Paul Gemignani is the musical director.

Perhaps because so much talent was involved, the show suffers from a serious case of overproducedness. The flamboyance that makes this production such a crowd-pleaser dissipates the story's emotions and morals for this viewer. It also affects the performance of star Tim Curry (filling a role played in previous years by Tony Roberts, Frank Langella and Roger Daltrey, among others). We know Curry has both the range and potential hamminess to make an excellent Scrooge, but he seems to have been instructed to forgo actual emoting in favor of simply saying what has to be said in order to move the show along to the next musical number. Prime example of this: When Scrooge awakens Christmas morning to discover he isn't dead and has the chance to redeem his life, Curry does not act merry as a schoolboy, giddy as a drunken man (Dickens' own words); he just says he feels that way. Furthermore, by the end of his journey into Christmas Past, he's already converted to a nice guy. Scrooge's transformation really should be more gradual: seeing Christmas Past makes him regret his behavior, Christmas Present shows him the joy he could share in, Christmas Future frightens him into changing.

I also found some of the show’s "creativity" ill-conceived: The Ghost of Christmas Past (Martin Moran) does not need an entourage, especially one that, with their white suits and derby hats, bears an unfortunate resemblance to the gang in A Clockwork Orange. The Ghost of Christmas Present's (Gerry McIntyre) chorus line of grapes, apple and pear--his banquet table come to life--looks like the old Fruit of the Loom commercials. And Marley's Ghost (Paul Kandel) with his hooked nose and fright wig is Beetlejuice on a bad hair day. Most perplexing of all: The Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Be, who is supposed to be a faceless, hooded giant, is a ballerina dressed all in red (Catherine Batcheller).

The songs in A Christmas Carol— The Musical tend to be indistinguishable from one another, except some are peppy ensemble numbers and some ballads. It's not as if the composers don't know how to write show music: Menken penned great scores for Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, and Ahrens wrote Ragtime and Once on This Island, both of which had catchy tunes.

No matter who plays Scrooge, and even with an undistinguished score the show earns enthusiastic ovations for its finale and curtain calls. This Christmas Carol seems to bring tidings of comfort and joy to those making their first acquaintance with Scrooge and his spirits. and his spirits.

Based on the story by Charles Dickens
Book by Mike Ockrent & Lynn Ahrens
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Directed by Mike Ockrent
Starring Tim Curry as Scrooge
Set Design: Tony Walton
Lighting Design: Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Sound Design: Tony Meola
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes, no intermission
The Theater at Madison Square Garden, 307-4111, through December 27
Performances (before Christmas) Wednesday at 2PM & 7PM, Thursday at 11AM & 7:30PM (no AM performance on December 20), Friday at 5PM & 8PM, Saturday-Sunday at 11AM, 2PM & 5PM, Saturday also at 8PM, (after Christmas) Wednesday-Thursday at 12PM & 3PM; $29-$68
Opened November 23, 2001
Reviewed by Adrienne Onofri, based on November 30, 2001 performance
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