Tuesday, 15 December 2020

REVIEW: A Christmas Carol at the Dominion Theatre

Producer and Conductor Freddie Tapner wanted to bring a bit of joy and an uplifting message that it is “never too late to change” to the West End stage and never can the emotion and inspiration of that message have been felt more strongly than on this opening night of A Christmas Carol just four hours after the Government had announced Theatres in London must close again on Wednesday 16th December. What was already destined to be an outstanding show was elevated into one of the most magical nights I have ever experienced in the West End. The Producers, Creatives, Cast, Crew and Front of house staff used the news to put on a wonderful show and as Brian Conley said early on the best way to keep Covid at bay is to clap loudly and often and that is what this audience did from start to finish.  

Tapner and his London Musical Theatre Orchestra (a twenty-six-piece band laid out across the back of the huge Dominion stage) regularly stage Musical Theatre concerts and in recent years I have enjoyed their versions of Girlfriends and Camelot. But on this occasion the term concert does the production a disservice. This is a fully staged and choreographed multi-sensory celebration of life with a faultless cast and staging. Though the story is well known and often staged or filmed (this year there are many versions available) I was not familiar with the score, but it is instantly enjoyable with hints of Sondheim and Lerner and Lowe. Written by Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, Sister Act and Newsies) with book and lyrics by Lynn Aherns and Mike Ockrent it tells the story mainly through song. 

“Nothing to do with me” sets up Scrooge as the miserly skinflint rejecting all requests for shows of charity and love with the stage full of the large cast and ensemble all beautifully dressed in Victorian garb and using the various props and furniture to gives different levels. “Link by Link” is wonderfully choreographed and dramatic encounter with Marley (a magnificent Jeremy Secomb) and various ghostly chain carriers. “The Lights of long ago” takes us into his past with Lucie Jones joyously skipping through his back story as the Ghost of Christmas Past. “Abundance and Charity” is led by the rich soulful voice of Cedric Neal and is uplifting and hopeful as we see Scrooge begging to be taught more and elegantly and simply staged. “Dancing on your grave” is dark and grim, again with highly effective lighting and choreography, as Scrooge learns his final lessons and the transformation is complete. 

Throughout Brian Conley shines as the white-haired Scrooge clearly showing the transformation that overcomes the character but remaining sympathetic and helping us recognise the same faults in ourselves so that the message that at this time, we should all think of those less fortunate than ourselves. When at the end he steps centre stage to say a few unscripted words about the impact on us all because of the Government’s decision to shut London Theatres again the audience are all on their feet applauding and supporting his sentiments. 

However, he is nearly upstaged by the delightful young children who charmingly play young Scrooge, his sister Fan, the poor Grace and of course Tiny Tim. With clear confident voices, they each play their roles wonderfully and I hope each member of the team got to play their part at least once in this curtailed run. 

The whole production is directed with great skill and ingenuity by Shaun Kerrison and backed by some excellent video and graphics by George Reeve projected on the large screen above the band and has the feel of a high production value West End show with great musicality and fresh and lively touches. This is no concert; this is a joyous celebration of musical theatre with a powerful and meaningful message that resonated as much today (perhaps more so) than when Charles Dickens wrote it in 1843. Bravo London Musical Theatre Orchestra. We hope you will return to the stage even stronger in 2021.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Circle, Row D | Price of Ticket: £68

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