Though he's not exactly a household name, Leslie Bricusse is an exceptionally successful and gifted composer and lyricist. Along with his frequent collaborator Anthony Newley, Bricusse wrote "What Kind of Fool Am I?," "Who Can I Turn To?," "Pure Imagination" and "The Candy Man," not to mention a couple of highly revered musicals, Stop the World — I Want to Get Off and The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd. He also made important contributions to films such as Doctor Dolittle, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. And along with Newley and John Barry, he wrote the spine-tingling title song from the James Bond classic Goldfinger.
In such a formidable oeuvre, Scrooge: The Musical might be considered a minor work. Regardless, it's spunky and affecting in its own singular way, and Boiler Room Theatre's new production weathers some uneven moments to emerge victorious, while also providing a welcome piece of alternative holiday fare, familiar though the story may be.
For this thoughtful, musicalized take on A Christmas Carol, Bricusse struck out completely on his own, writing book, music and lyrics. Adapted from the 1970 film starring Albert Finney, the musical first hit the stage in 1992.
Act 1 is distinguished by three numbers that probe the psychological underpinnings of Mr. Scrooge: "I Hate People," "It's Not My Fault" and "You ... You," the last a unique duet with himself as a young boy (courtesy of the Ghost of Christmas Past).
Matt Baugher's generally understated approach to the title role seems almost docile in the early going, yet his steady performance eventually provides more than sufficient insight into the character's darker traits, particularly when we see him in action as a hardhearted purveyor of usurious services in an impoverished 1843 London neighborhood.
The show benefits mightily from a supporting cast that includes Patrick Kramer, Megan Murphy Chambers, Lisa Gillespie, Vicki White and co-director Sondra Morton (who shared the staging duties with Jayme Smith). BRT managing director Corbin Green, who also designed the show's sets and lights, put in an emergency appearance as Mr. Fezziwig, replacing veteran Dan McGeachy, who took ill two days prior to opening. (Green pulled off his stand-in gig just fine, and McGeachy is reportedly on the mend.)
The score's sprightlier selections are in the spirit of British music hall, including the delightful "December the 25th"; "The Minister's Cat," a lively and infectious Act 2 parlor-game song led by the ever-professional Chambers; and "Thank You Very Much," the big rouser of an 11 o'clock number, very close to the style of Oliver's "Consider Yourself." Baugher concludes the action with the introspective but redemptive solo, "I'll Begin Again."
The show's one distinctive set piece is a high, centrally positioned rear-screen used to project silhouetted figures and other complementary visuals. Musical director Jamey Green's competent sextet includes two horns and a string player, and his own keyboard work features some distinctive harpsichord stylings.
For theatergoers seeking a fresh Christmas Carol experience, this musical rendition will prove to be a pleasant surprise.
A little more Dickens
Franklin-based Studio Tenn Theatre Company performs Paula Y. Flautt's stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol Dec. 12-22 at TPAC's Polk Theater. The production is presented as a special addition to TPAC's Broadway Series under the auspices of its Humanities Outreach Tennessee program, which means a regular schedule of public performances plus special engagements for thousands of Tennessee schoolchildren.
The show is essentially a remounting of the high-art version Studio Tenn has been performing the past three years, though the opportunity to present the holiday classic in the Polk affords the company more options to explore space, especially given the limitations of its prior venues, Lipscomb University's Shamblin Theater and the historic Franklin Theatre. Meanwhile, director Matt Logan's design ideas maintain their signature steampunk look and feel, while fusing classical and contemporary aesthetics and theatrical techniques.
Veteran actor Chip Arnold reprises his complex yet keenly moving portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge, supported by a cast of acclaimed Music City thespians including Matthew Carlton, Patrick Waller, Brent Maddox, Mike Baum, Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva, Amanda Card, Kim Bretton and Nan Gurley.
Interestingly, with Nashville Ballet's take on The Nutcracker at Jackson Hall and Tennessee Repertory Theatre's perennial mounting of A Christmas Story at the Johnson Theater, this season marks a rare hat trick, with TPAC's three main venues each hosting a holiday-themed show produced by a major local arts company.
For tickets, visit StudioTenn.com or call the TPAC box office at 782-4040.