BY CARY GINELL
It’s always nice to see fresh, new productions come around Christmas time. It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, et. al. are always nice and comfortable, like a pair of familiar house slippers, but once in a while, a show comes along that pushes the envelope. Composer/librettist Paul Gordon has come up with such a show, titled Little Miss Scrooge, which is not just a sequel to Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, it’s a composite piece that incorporates characters and themes from other Dickens novels. Little Miss Scrooge makes its world premiere with a six-day run at the Rubicon Theatre Company beginning tonight.
Paul Gordon co-wrote the Broadway musical Jane Eyre,which was nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score. He won a 2009 Ovation Award for his music and lyrics to Daddy Long Legs and also won the 2007 Bay Area Critics Circle Award for his book to the musical Emma, which had its world premiere at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto. Emma has since gone on to play the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, the Arizona Theatre Company, and The Old Globe in San Diego. Daddy Long Legs, written with John Caird, premiered at Rubicon in the fall of 2009, winning three Ovation Awards. We talked with Gordon about his latest effort, Little Miss Scrooge.
VCOS: So what gave you the idea to do a show that was derived from A Christmas Carol?
PAUL: After seeing some holiday shows over the last several years I felt there was an absence of a contemporary Christmas musical that was aimed at adults but also entertaining enough for kids. I wasn’t sure that I wanted the story to revolve around A Christmas Carol until I came up with the idea to do a mash-up of several Dickens novels. It was the merging of Great Expectations with A Christmas Carol that gave us the foundation of the love story within the ghost story that I think makes Little Miss Scrooge so unique.
VCOS: Was this a way to make the lessons learned in A Christmas Carol more relevant to modern-day society?
PAUL: Yes. By making our Scrooge a 35-year-old woman and putting her on Wall Street, we were able to connect our story to the current socio-economical debates we are having right now in this country. The themes of economic inequality and social reform are as relevant today as they were in Dickens’ time and those are the themes we tackle in Little Miss Scrooge.
VCOS: What is the nature of the songs that you wrote for the show?
PAUL: The songs in the show are all quite different in nature. There are rock tunes, ballads, traditional musical theater songs, folky songs, etc. But all the songs are character driven, based on what the needs of the story were in that particular moment. We have one song that sounds like it could be off of an old Stone’s record. Another song has a more Kander and Ebb feel. It’s really all over the place. I’m hoping that’s a good thing.
VCOS: Talk about the names of the characters in the show. Are they all taken from Dickens’ novels?
PAUL: Almost all of them are. My co-writers and I had a lot of fun with this. The lead characters are generally components of two Dickens characters. For instance, our lead character is Estella Scrooge, who is both Estella from Great Expectations and Ebenezer from A Christmas Carol. The first ghost she sees is Miss Marla who is both Marley from A Christmas Carol and Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. Our leading man is Phillip Nickleby who is both Pip from Great Expectations and, obviously, Nickolas Nickleby from The Life and Times of Nickolas Nickleby. Then we have a character called Sissy Jupe, who is a minor character from Hard Times. She appears as a ghost and sings a song called “A Minor Character.” There are many other characters from Dickens novels scattered throughout the entire show. If you know your Dickens, it’s really a lot of fun. But if you don’t, you won’t miss a thing.
VCOS: Is this meant to be a seasonal offering, or do you have grander plans for the show?
PAUL: I think at this point in the development of the show we are looking at it as a seasonal offering.
VCOS: Without giving the plot away, there seems to be an aura of redemption around the story line. How does Estella change through the show?
PAUL: In that regard, we don’t stray too far from the original source material. Estella takes the same journey Ebenezer does, but we’ve added the love story to heighten her experience. In a way, Estella has more to lose than Ebenezer, but her redemption is still the most important part of her journey. But there are also quite a few Dickensian moments and plot twists that make our version a lot of fun and it’s really in keeping with the way Dickens himself liked to tell a story.
VCOS: If you could have anyone play the main characters in the show, who would you want to get?
PAUL: Let me just say that I’m very happy with our generous and talented cast who have given their all to this rehearsal and development process. We shall see what the future holds.
Little Miss Scrooge plays at the Rubicon Theatre Company through December 23. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.