Tacoma Little Theater stages the timeless tale of Scrooge

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The Christmas season would feel incomplete without taking in at least one performance of the story of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The message of the redemption of Mr. Humbug himself – Ebenezer Scrooge – and his becoming a man “who kept Christmas in his heart throughout the year” is a valuable touchstone. I always try to catch at least one performance each year, whether it be on stage or one of the numerous film or animation versions of the story that have been made through the years.

This year, Tacoma Little Theater makes the story, in the form of “Scrooge, The Musical,” its holiday show. The 1992 stage musical by Leslie Bricusse was closely adapted from the 1970 musical film “Scrooge” starring Albert Finney.

The show, directed by Michael O’Hara, hits all the good, familiar Christmas themes that remain timeless. There is Jacob Marley’s line that “mankind was our work,” not the making of money. The underlying message that happiness is of greater value than money can never be repeated often enough. It is such an obvious thing, yet it is so easy to lose sight of. The breaking of the story into scenes revealed by the three spirits of Christmas give the play variety and distinctive mood changes. It is always a delight when a different spirit arrives and to see how each new production of the story chooses to portray these beings.

TLT’s sets and costumes are both great. The backdrop to the stage is a huge, ornate semi-circle, like the clock face of Big Ben. This can be lit with a variety of mood lighting or be used as a screen for projected images. The period costumes set the scene, but it is the costumes of the three spirits that are especially well designed.

“Scrooge, The Musical” is a show that lives or dies on the strength of the actor in the title role, here taken on by Andrew Fry, who got big laughs as King Herod in last season’s TLT production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Fry has the stage presence, the acting talent and the humor for the part. And while his vocal range is not all that the part requires, he gets close enough to pass it off. Sometimes he is just an inch shy of magnificent, but at other times, he’ll hit a sour note.

Among the best of the vocalists are Jeremy Lynch, who plays Bob Cratchit and Kenya Adams, as Mrs. Cratchit. The latter’s solo parts, however, are disappointingly brief. Tristin Nelson, as the young Ebenezer, is also quite good. Evie Merrill makes for a Tiny Tim who is cloyingly lovable.

Of the spirits, TLT’s managing artistic director Chris Serface is the most dynamic in his portrayal of the scintillating Ghost of Christmas Present. A large ensemble cast brings the stage alive during the big song and dance routines. Their combined voices make a joyful noise.

The opening night performance seemed plagued by the eternal problem with microphones that cut in and out, thus robbing potentially magical moments in the score of their potency. For example, during “You-You,” a song in which the young Ebenezer and old Scrooge join in a duet, what should have been a haunting and heart aching dialogue between young Ebenezer and old Scrooge – the same person singing with himself through time – never quite came together in part because of the microphones dropping in and out.

Another drawback is that some of the songs, like “December the Twenty-Fifth” and “The Minister’s Cat” are so repetitive that they grow tedious.

Throughout the show, I kept waiting for a spell binding moment to arrive. At times it came close, but the production never whacked one out of the ballpark. In the end, there was just the power of the story itself to deliver the goods. “A Christmas Carol” is one of the better Christmas stories out there, its message feels as relevant today as it when Dickens wrote it 175 years ago. The transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from the old miser to the generous and jovial man is always inspirational.

For scheduling, ticketing and other information, visit www.tacomalittletheatre.com.

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