Escape from holiday hurly-burly: ‘Scrooge’ on stage at Spreckels
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By Jud Snyder  December 6, 2013 12:00 am

When Charles Dickens wrote his “A  Christmas Carol” back in 1834, he created this poor crippled kid, Tiny Tim, fitted him with a crutch, and he never failed to warm the hearts of Victorian stage audiences. The book also had a miserly old grouch named Ebenezer Scrooge.

Fast forward nearly 300 years and nowadays Tiny Tim’s quietly shuffled  to just another character. And lookie-here, the hated tight-fisted curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge, gets a stage play and a couple of movies with his name on  worldwide marquees. Maybe that’s a comment on civilian society over the past 300 years, you know, Scrooge sells more tickets than Tiny Tim. Maybe there’s a moral here somewhere. I’ll let someone else chaw on that Victorian bone.

However, if you’re dreading Christmas shopping with its crowded checkout lines, trying to elbow your way close to the perfume counter, endless choruses of “Little Drummer Boy,” drilled in your ears and parking places only available somewhere east of Snyder Lane, “Scrooge” at Spreckels Performing Arts Center’s like a glass of Zinfadel and a chunk of Asiago cheese while cradled in your Barcalounger. Talk about escapism!

It’s staged in the smaller Condiotti experimental theater inside Spreckels, the perfect jewel box size for this slice of Dickens’ magic. The audience often has the actors clawing at them or singing their songs inches away from playgoer  elbows. For two and a half hours of escapism at $26 or $24, it’s a better bet than the casino. Shows are weekends at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm through Dec. 22.

Written by Leslie Bricusse (music book and lyrics), Two English movies of it were made, one with Alec Guinness playing Scrooge. Bricusse, gained fame with Anthony Newley and “Stop the World, I Want to Get off,” “Willie Wonka” and “Victor, Victoria.”

Sourpuss Ebenezer Scrooge’s the linch pin of this enthusiastic musical and has not much time off stage. You probably remember him, Tim Setzer, if you saw “Young Frankenstein” at Spreckels earlier this season.

The real stars in “Scrooge” are the 24 cast members, ranging in age from 11 to seniors. They’re all singers and dancers with credit to their vocal cords and choreographer Michella Snider. There are more entrances and exits than a drug store thronged with Christmas shoppers. It’s a credit to precise timing.

The costumes by Pamela Enz deserve extra plaudits for she has so many ages and varied talents to supply with time-appropriate costumes. Pay attention to the costumes and you’ll recognize the value of her work as it builds to move the action along, even without words. It runs from the chains on Marley’s Ghost to pre-teen Victorian urchins. Pure professionalism shows.

With Setzer knitting all this drama together and a 24-member roster to cope with continually, it’s quite a remarkable achievement in regional stagecraft. You can sympathize with a frustrated Scrooge, ever-griping, but no one can see or hear him except for one- oh, never mind who. 

“Scrooge” grabs you from his sour-tempered intro comment: “I hate people. Why? Because people hate me.” From then on the production never lets you go. There’s just so much going on in front of your eyes. You know very well what happens: Scrooge turns into a jolly good fellow distributing Christmas presents and proclaiming, “I forgive all your debts.”

It’s the trip to get there, built by the stage magic created by Director Gene Abravaya, who obviously loves the work he did here. It shows. “I remember when I was growing up every year the family had to see a “Scrooge” play no matter where we lived,” Abravaya admits.

“Scrooge” plays on a minimally decorated set by Eddy Hansen and Elizabeth Bazzano with cast members moving boxes around to enhance the multi-level stage already there. Big screen projections form needed backgrounds. There’s a musical trio off stage led by Cynthia Heath backing the multitude of singers and dancers.

Call it escapism. It doesn’t matter. But you’d better make reservations promptly. Opening weekend, Friday, Saturday night were sellouts and Sunday matinee, always popular at Spreckels, is most likely a sellout, too. Call the Spreckels box office at 588-3400 Tuesday through Saturday afternoons to see what’s available or one hour before curtain times and keep your fingers crossed. 

You can’t go wrong with familiar Dickens’ characters like old Ebenezer himself, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, Marley’s Ghost, and Christmases past, present and future. They’re all at Spreckels. 

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