Much to love in Moon’s charming Scrooge

Dec 05

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Jacob Marley (Ryan Drummond, left) pays a reluctant Ebenezer Scrooge (Jason Graae) another ghostly visit in 42nd Street Moon’s world premiere of Scrooge in Love, running now through Dec. 13 at the Eureka Theatre. Below: Graae’s Scrooge is surrounded by friends and family who are now rooting for the once curmudgeonly miser to fall in love. Photos by Patrick O’Connor

Just when you thought there was not a breath of life left in the seasonal cash cow known as A Christmas Carol, along comes Scrooge in Love! to remind us that there’s still a lot of life and heart and holiday spirit left in old Ebenezer Scrooge.

San Francisco’s venerable 42nd Street Moon, formed 23 years ago to present neglected or forgotten musicals, has been shaking things up of late, with the company’s latest coup being the world premiere of this sequel to Dickens’ Carol with music by Larry Grossman (Minnie’s Boys, Snoopy!!!), lyrics by Kellen Blair (Murder for Two) and a book by Duane Poole (A Christmas Memory). It’s an absolute gem of a musical – fresh, clever, spirited and a welcome addition to the canon of holiday perennials.

Most sequels are a doomed enterprise from the start. They assume you know (and care) what has come before and are excited about continuing. In movies, that is often true, but in musicals (Annie 2, Bring Back Birdie, the Phantom disaster known as Love Never Dies) it’s more like the kiss of death. But Dickens’ Carol is so ubiquitous in so many forms (movies, musicals, cartoons, plays) it seems odd that so few have picked up the story of Scrooge after his transformational night with the four ghosts.

That’s what this Scrooge does and does beautifully. We meet Scrooge a year later. Once again, it’s Christmas Eve, and a familiar, chain-wearing specter appears. It’s Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s deceased business partner, and Scrooge has to wonder if this is going to become an annual visitation. This time around, however, Marley is less interested in terrifying Scrooge into changing his misanthropic ways and more into finishing Scrooge’s evolution into a loving pillar of the community by encouraging him to find someone to love.

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The first act takes us on a familiar journey as the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future reappear to help Scrooge reconnect with Belle, the woman who stole his heart as a young man but who slipped away when he valued work and profit more than love and human connection. In Act 2, an even more enlivened Scrooge embarks on a Christmas Day quest to find and woo Belle in a hurry. Not to give anything away, but this being a warmhearted Christmas tale, there’s a happy ending.

I’ve said this before, but in the good old days of musical theater, composers would be tripping over themselves to write shows for Jason Graae the effervescent performer who perviously dazzled in Moon’s Little Me. Possessed of a beautiful, emotional voice and perfect comic timing, Graae is one of our best musical comedy actors, and Scrooge in Love! is a sensational fit for his talents. He seems a little young to be playing Scrooge, but this is the transformed Scrooge, after all, and do we really want to see a crotchety old crank fall in love? Not really, but we do root for Graae’s sweet Scrooge to finish off his transformation in the most romantic way possible. Graae steals hearts (and the show) with his Act 1 ballad “The Things You Should Have Done” and again in Act 2 with a wonderful song called “A Kitchen Built for Twenty” (but a place set for one – a lament for those who realize living alone is not the best option for them). Graae is so good – seemingly effortlessly – in this show he should clear his holiday calendar for the next 30 years or as long as he wants to continue playing Scrooge.

Graae gives a star turn here, but director Dyan McBride’s top-notch production provides abundant pleasures. Music Director Dave Dobrusky with Ken Brill on synthesizer and Ami Nashimoto on cello bering a full, rich sound to the Grossman-Blair score, which has to be one of the most charming and tuneful new scores in recent memory. There’s an old-fashioned, Golden Age feel to the songs, but they’re also infused with intelligence and solid craftsmanship, which makes the evening that much more effervescent. Just try to resist Scrooge’s “Happier” or the ghostly quartet “You Can’t Put a Price on Love.”

McBride and choreographer Staci Arriaga seamlessly blend dance and movement into the action so that the entire two hours feels lively and merry without ever feeling forced. The ghosts are all marvelous, especially the high-energy Elise Youssef as Christmas Past. Ryan Drummond is also wonderful as Marley, who gets his own shot at redemption this time out.

One nice surprise of Scrooge is that it’s actually moving without ever being corny. Scrooge’s connection with Belle (Melissa Reinertson) feels genuine, so it’s easy to feel invested in their love story, and Scrooge’s struggle to find value in life minus the dollar signs is a nice echo of the original and a nod to what makes the Scrooge story so powerful, even in its many and varied forms.

This is a joyous world premiere, an utterly delightful and disarming holiday treat, and you don’t need to be the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be to see that this show is going to have a long, happy life.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Scrooge in Love! continues through Dec. 13 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25-$75. Call 415-255-8207 or visit www.42ndstmoon.org.

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