There was plenty of Christmas cheer at the opening night of Scrooge at Milton Keynes Theatre on Tuesday as Tommy Steele and the cast of Charles Dickens’ wonderful festive story wowed a packed audience, writes Alan Wooding.
Making his sixth appearance in the title role of Ebenezer Scrooge, 74-year-old Tommy (he’ll be 75 in four week’s time) worked his magic throughout the two hour production with all enthusiasm and athleticism of a man a third of his age.
Composer and Lyricts Leslie Bricusse’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (written in the mid-1840s) first appeared on stage in 1992 when it starred Anthony Newley although it was subsequently revived in 2003 with Tommy playing the title character at the London Palladium.
In fact, it is Bill Kenwright’s London production that is now on tour, the like of which is rarely seen in the provinces as it uses all those spectacular Palladium sets.
The superb scenery and street scene backdrop showcases a talented cast which also features Barry Howard (remember the camp ballroom dancing partner of Yvonne in Hi-De-Hi) as Scrooge’s long-dead partner, the ghostly Jacob Marley.
While the show’s musical score was new to most of the audience, most knew the brilliant ‘Thank you very much’ which even the following morning was still ringing in my head.
There’s plenty of comedy moments plus several clever illusions as the three Christmas spirits appear to Scrooge at the hours of one, two and three o’clock on Christmas morning.
Apparently magician Paul Kieve - famous for his Harry Potter film work - had a hand in making them appear and disappear by walking though walls and mirrors.
After all the ‘baa humbug’ as Scrooge ambles among the many street traders who owe him money, Marley appears to warn him that the three spirits will be appearing to him in a bid to help him change his life for the better.
Each spirit brings with it a vision of old Ebenezer’s life.
Sarah Earnshaw makes a rather fetching Ghost of Christmas Past while James Head as the Ghost of Christmas Present was a real show stealer.
He made a spectacular entrance sitting in Scrooge’s four-poster bed. A cross between a portly Brian Blessed and Harry Potter’s giant Hagred, James gave a terrific portrayal of the spirit, down to his illuminated cloak and holly wreath head dress. And while parading about the stage, you couldn’t keep your eyes off him.
The musical numbers (and there are plenty of them) were superbly produced while the choreography was slick in all quarters. In fact the whole production had more than a touch of Oliver about it and you almost expected Scrooge to morph himself into Fagin.
Worthy of special mention was little Jake Horncastle who played the crippled Tiny Tim Cratchit. His solo ‘The Beautiful Day’, brought the house down and reminded me of Cosette’s ‘Castle on a Cloud’ from Les Miserables. Many sitting around us were watery eyed!
I particularly loved Scrooge’s original employee Bob Cratchit (Edward Handoll) and his former emplyers Mrs and Mrs Fezziwig (Halcro Johnston and Tessa Vale). The well-worked ‘December the Twenty-Fifth’ number, which also involved the whole company, was a real toe-tapper and scene steal.
There were plenty of quick changes for some but the whole production was really a vehicle for Tommy Steele.
I grew up up in the late 1950s when he first burst onto the music scene. His musical tastes were influenced after he saw Buddy Holly on stage in the USA while he was in the Merchant Navy. And Tommy became was to Britain’s first proper rock ‘n’ roll star.
With a host of top ten records, Bermondsey-born Tommy - with a trademark toothy grin - has starred in countless shows and films. He has toured the world in a variety of productions and is also an accomplished musician and painter. He has three paintings hanging in the National Gallery while his sculptures grace several towns and cities up and down the country.
He had the audience in raptures throughout the show and while Scrooge is undoubtedly a fantastic festive treat for the whole family – you could almost smell the mulled wine and roast chestnuts! - unfortunately it closes in the Milton Keynes on Saturday after an all-to-short five-day stay.
However it’s probably worth checking with the theatre box office on 0844 871 7652 or log onto www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes to see if there are any spares seats left … but I doubt it!