The 1970 movie poster declared, "What in the Dickens have they done to Scrooge?"
OK, he sings now, quite a lot, but in actuality "they" returned Ebenezer to the original incarnation. "Scrooge," musical or not, is dark, at times disturbing, and in my opinion the best 20th-century adaptation of "A Christmas Carol."
If you've never seen Albert Finney's film performance, it's pretty repulsive. For starters, he appears to have some Proactiv skin issue on his face and serious dental problems. Rarely have I seen a more loathsome and revolting character portrayal. Yet, at the same time, Finney was in his early 30s in the film and a sex symbol. One of those disturbing elements is when Scrooge falls into his own grave, screaming as he descends into hell, where he is met by Jacob Marley, who has been appointed as Lucifer's accountant. Massive chains are wrapped upon Scrooge by the Devil's minions, too heavy to allow movement of any kind, and rats begin to crawl over him. The good news is he wakes up with a second chance, and the other good news is that scene is not in the stage version.
Brian Connolly stars as miserly Scrooge (left) and Hope Blackwell as beloved Tiny Tim
JACK GRACE photo
Jason Strahn stars as the Ghost of Christmas Present (left) and Brian Connolly as Ebenezer Scrooge in Maui OnStage’s musical version of Charles Dickens’ classic tale.
JACK GRACE photo
What makes "Scrooge -The Musical" a classic in its own right is the music. Its creator, Leslie Bricusse, crafted more hits than I can list, including "What Kind of Fool Am I," "Goldfinger" and "Talk to the Animals," as well as the lyrics from "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" and "Victor/Victoria." Bricusse's long-time collaborator, Anthony Newley ("Stop the World I Want to Get Off," "Willy Wonka," "Dr. Doolittle"), played Scrooge in the original 1992 London stage version. Cast member Jason Strahn, who is playing the Ghost of Christmas Present for the third time in four years, commented on the songs. "I'm falling in love with the music; it's very similar to 'Oliver!' " in reference to past Maui OnStage "Carol" productions, Strahn added, "It's definitely a different atmosphere. There are so many musical aspects that require more rehearsing. This Scrooge is much more intense."
Just as unlikely as casting Finney for a large singing role, Maui OnStage director Ricky Jones has cast several infrequent singers in the upcoming "Scrooge" production at the Historic Iao Theater. Bricusse's songs might be described as sing-songy, but with a few show-stopping production numbers. Because of this style, unlikely actors like Finney, Gene Wilder and Rex Harrison have been singing Bricusse songs for more than 50 years. Playing the title role on Maui is Brian Connolly, perhaps more likely to be seen onstage as Stanley Kowalski than in a musical.
I asked Connolly if he was intimidated by the role. "This is a huge challenge for me. Singing, dancing, I never leave the stage," he shared. "It's one of my two favorite stories, the other is 'Hamlet,' but this one has a decidedly better ending." Connolly, a truly devoted actor, said he brings the work with him wherever he goes and is constantly working on lines and songs. He shared a story of a day off beach outing with his family:
"When you're singing 'I'll Begin Again,' no one seems to notice much. But, when you practice 'I Hate People,' you tend to get a lot of odd looks and head shakes. People were swimming away from me and leaving the water."
Part of the reason Connolly will be onstage for the entire production is Director Jones' vision of Scrooge's world. Scrooge will be surrounded by life, but never a part of it, as if in a bubble while the world circles around him.
Jones shared his thoughts about Scrooge the man with me. "Through the trauma of losing his father and sister and being an awkward child, he wound up isolating himself, as many of us do in life."
No stranger to "Scrooge - the Musical," he has performed in five previous productions as Ebenezer's nephew, as well as a sixth, cast-of-two production, in which he played every part except Scrooge. Jones' vision places Scrooge in one isolated area on stage for the entire show. "His space is invaded and he gets to the edge but he will not cross into the world. Because he did this to himself, he is unable to grow as a person. Stepping outside of our comfort zone is what allows us to grow as people, and when he finally steps out, he is a changed man."
Maui OnStage presents "Scrooge - the Musical" with book, music/lyrics by Bricusse, direction by Jones, musical direction by Steven Dascoulias and choreography by Erin Kowalick. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 29 through Dec. 15, at Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Reserved seating tickets range from $17 to $28. For tickets or more information to any Maui OnStage production, call 242-6969 or purchase reserved seats online at mauionstage.com.
Enjoy a night of laughter with Gabriel Iglesias and his "Stand-Up Revolution Tour." Iglesias' high-octane show is a mix of storytelling, parody, characterization and sound effects that bring all his personal issues to life and laughter. Regularly seen on Comedy Central, Inglesias is famous for his past DVDs, including "Aloha Fluffy," "Hot & Fluffy" and "I'm Not Fat . . . I'm Fluffy." Performance is at 7:30 p.m. Friday Nov. 29, in the Castle Theater at the MACC.
General admission tickets are $41 (plus applicable fees). To purchase, visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.
OnSTAGE, a new children's theater program, will present "The Story of Orange" by Vernise Pelzel. "Orange" is the musical tale of a misunderstood, shunned orange zebra, featuring puppets, a cast of 26 children ages 9 to 13, and special guest star Dale Button. Performances are 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 and 14 at the Historic Iao Theater. General admission tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for children.
The new year is just around the corner, and there are several upcoming chances to get involved in local theater. The deadline for the Maui Fringe Theater Festival 2014 is Friday, Nov. 29. Aspiring writers and performing artists may submit a script for their one-act shows to firstname.lastname@example.org. Performance pieces should not exceed one hour. For details, rules, pricing and an application, you may visit www.mauionstage.com.
Auditions for Jerry Herman's "La Cage aux Folles," directed by Alexis Dascoulias, will happen at the Historic Iao Theater from 6 to 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 3. Performers should prepare to sing a song in musical-theater style, do a short monologue and bring a headshot, resume and sheet music in your key. Dance call and callbacks will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 10. The role of Albin (Zaza) has been cast. Performances will be weekends Feb. 28 through March 16. Rehearsals begin in December. Auditions are by appointment only. To reserve, call Maui OnStage at 244-8680, or get more detailed info at www.mauionstage.com.
Maui Academy of Performing Arts will present "Fiddler on the Roof" with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein. The classic musical set in 1905 tsarist Russia is based on "Tevye and his Daughters" and other tales by Sholem Aleichem.
"Fiddler" will be directed by David C. Johnston, with weekend performances Feb. 21 through March 9 at the Steppingstone Playhouse. Audition information will soon be available online at www.mauacademy.org.