Scrooge lives up to the legend

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Two women whose children are past the age of believing in Santa went to ArtSpring last week feeling a little overwhelmed and bothered by their seasonal obligations.

The island holiday tradition of seeing Christmas With Scrooge was not one they had experienced before. Although they surely found much to relate to in the character of Mrs. Cratchit and not so much with the rich but grumpy Scrooge, it may be fair to say there was a faint echo of “Bah! Humbug!” in their hearts.

Those women — and anyone else in the audience who may have been feeling more annoyance than bliss at the prospect of Christmas — received a positive attitude adjustment after seeing the cherished Newman Family Productions show. Not needing the compete transformation that Ebenezer Scrooge did, they went forward into the night with a new lightness of spirit, and renewed appreciation for the fine musical theatre tradition the Newmans have fostered on the island for close to 50 years.

Christmas With Scrooge had its debut in 1971 as Christmas Madness, a short musical adaptation of Dickens’ classic story A Christmas Carol. A short video of the show’s origin and evolution that opened last week’s sold-out run was a delightful way to introduce that history, and to bring in the voice of Virginia Newman, who wrote much of the music that still appears in the show. The video also provided a lovely bridge between past and present: scenes of Sue Newman as a young girl dancing the part of the Christmas fairy on the screen led directly to her appearance on stage in that role, one she has resumed year after year.

Newman has reported that Christmas With Scrooge now has around 85 people involved, with about 50 onstage, representing an age demographic spanning single digits to octogenarians. This broadly inclusive slice of the community is a major part of what makes the show so special. The other part, of course, is the generous quantity of song, dance and sheer silliness interspersed with Scrooge’s redemption journey.

Community inclusiveness is a hallmark of the show. There are traces of the original Christmas Madness to be seen in the cabaret/variety portions, which it appears could be shifted in or out of the script depending on who is available and what their particular strengths might be in a given year. This past production made good use of local veterans of the stage for the key roles — such as Patrick Cassidy as delightfully expressive Scrooge and Kevin Wilkie as his hard-pressed employee Bob Cratchit. Bob Twaites transformed wonderfully from his full-time Christmas role to the Ghost of Christmas Past, in the perfect fur-trimmed green velvet robes and fairy light wreath. Kane O’Scalleigh did admirable double duty as two young women, going from slightly spoiled upper crust daughter to dutiful Cratchit girl with many younger siblings.

The variety show aspect comes to a frenzied head in a scene from a Christmas past when Scrooge was a young man. The Fezziwigs’ ball is a delightfully frothy affair, with gorgeous satin costumes, tiny glasses of punch, dance sets and performances by different guests and members of the host family. This year the ball included a funny duet by Jo Twaites and Maggie O’Scalleigh as spinster sisters looking for the single men, and an over-the-top appearance by Jeffrey Renn as opera diva “Greta Van Wiener Schnitzel” in full Brunhild gear.

The ball is also the opportunity to see the famous Spotty Dogs act. With a set of small children very much in character as dogs in spotted suits, this continues to be a heart-melting but funny skit that will win over any Scrooges that might be lingering in the audience.

The young children in the cast were the show stealers, in general, and were highly professional and accomplished whenever they appeared, whether as street urchins, dancers or the remarkable Tiny Tim (Ruby Williamson).

With much of the action carrying into the audience, carollers in full Victorian costume singing outside before the show and at intermission, and treats by donation that included roasted chestnuts and hot potatoes, Christmas With Scrooge is an immersive experience more than a show to watch.

Newman says the company is committed to carrying on the Christmas With Scrooge tradition for a few more years, at least until the 50th anniversary in 2021. Advice for next year is to book tickets as soon as they are available, because this is one holiday season tradition that meets the hype.

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