Trying to decide which version of Charles Dickens’ short story A Christmas Carol to see this holiday season? Well one of the best is Leslie Bricusse’s musical adaptation, which is being staged through December 17 at the Big Oak Theatre in Chatsworth. Now, if you’ve never been there, this place is a different kind of experience. The theater is located on a private ranch in Chatsworth owned by Patrick Hart, a former actor and producer, and his wife Bonnie. The Harts use a barn on their ranch for their shows, which include concerts, plays, and musicals. It’s a rustic setting, but very homey, and the Harts are welcoming and congenial hosts, passing out cider and goody packets of biscotti and chocolates to all who see the show. The barn seats only about 40 so the gathering is small and intimate. (Seating is on a random assortment of theater seats purchased from extant theaters.)
In addition to hosting, Patrick Hart stars as miser Ebenezer Scrooge in the familiar story. The show’s first half actually consists of a Christmas sing-along, with Bonnie Hart and Paula Lurvey leading the audience in holiday favorites including “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Leslie Bricusse’s Scrooge is a shortened, one-act adaptation of the 1992 stage musical of Dickens’ tale that features an original score of songs that fits beautifully into the story. Both stem from the 1970 film of the musical that starred Albert Finney in the title role. Hart introduces his character with the lighthearted “I Hate People,” one of a baker’s dozen of songs in this shortened version of the score. Bricusse’s music brings to mind the light touch brought to Oliver! by Lionel Bart, which makes Dickens’ rather dark story a little brighter and cheerier. Songs like “Father Christmas,” sung by an assemblage of street urchins, “December the Twenty-Fifth,” sung by Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig (Eric Nielsen and Tamarah Ashton) and “I Like Life,” sung by Hart and the marvelous Mike Firek as the Ghost of Christmas Present are two of the more sprightly songs in the score. Maybe the best of all is “Thank You Very Much,” a song in the vein of “Consider Yourself” (also from Oliver!) that is sung and danced by the delightful Amber Rivette, who plays Tom Jenkins, one of Scrooge’s clients who owes him money. The song is a rambunctious Music Hall-styled number that serves to sarcastically celebrate the “death” of Scrooge during the futuristic tableau laid out by the Ghost of Christmas Future (Robert Arach). Marlee Candell also does a nice job as the stern, but sympathetic Ghost of Christmas Past.
Nick Ceglio, whose brother Andrew directs and choreographs the show, plays kindly family man Bob Cratchit in a charismatic performance. Making her stage debut is young Saxon Humphrey, who plays the part of Tiny Tim, who gets to sing a charming solo, “The Beautiful Day,” which received enthusiastic applause from the audience. Timothy Nicely does an excellent job as the chained ghost of Jacob Marley while Jessica Haganey and Noemi Vaca alternate in the part of Isabel, young Ebenezer’s (Adam Sion Krist) first love.
Bonnie Hart and the cast joined forces to coordinate on the wonderful costumes with Denise Greenhut providing makeup.
Scrooge, which features afternoon performances at 3 pm, is a delightful way to introduce youngsters to the familiar story in a fun, entertaining way. Join the Hart family (if you can get a seat!) and see this entertaining, colorful production.
The Big Oak Theatre is located at 22200 Chatsworth St. in Chatsworth. For tickets, email the theater at [email protected] or call (818) 998-0185. Scrooge plays through December 17. For all dates and show times, see the VC On Stage Calendar.