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Randall's 'Scrooge' shows its timeless appeal

Unless you’ve time-warped here from sometime before 1843, you know the Scrooge story. A flinty-hearted old miser is redeemed by some well-meaning ghosts and a loving family that includes a lovable tyke on a crutch.

Dickens’ best-known book has been made into almost as many musicals as straight plays. Leslie Bricusse’s 1992 musical version, adapted from the 1970 Albert Finney film, is one of the best-known and best-loved (there are theaters that do it every year and still draw audiences). And that’s the version that opened Thursday night at Medford’s Randall Theatre.

"Scrooge, The Musical" is a big production that can be staged with upward of a couple dozen players. Director Toni Holley has done it with a cast of 17 and quite of bit of doubling.

The early songs (“Sing a Christmas Carol,” “Christmas Children,” “Father Christmas”) establish the prevailing festive mood and its bah-humbug opposite, as represented by Scrooge (“M.O.N.E.Y.”). As the cold-hearted old miser, William Coyne has his first big moment with the song “I Hate People,” which he delivers with appropriate venom.

The character of Scrooge is, of course, the key to any production of the musical. Coyne’s Scrooge will definitely give you the cold pricklies, even if the characterization is a bit cartoonish. Coyne snaps off bah-humbugs in a veritable shout, his lean frame crabbing around with the help of a cane. It’s not a nuanced performance (and to be fair, Bricusse’s miser is a stripped-down take on Dickens’ original), but Coyne does clad the old skinflint in an accessibly dark aura.

The other key is the ghosts. John Richardson, who seems to have a gift for portraying comically over-the-top characters (he was Otto Von Bruno in the Randall’s “Bullshot Crummond”), is a hoot in chains and goofy makeup as the ghost of Jacob Marley. John Wing (who also doubles as Fezziwig) brings a wry nonchalance to the Ghost of Christmas Present, the specter who for some reason always seems to be the most entertaining of the ghosts.

The versatile Jacob Uhlman is a believable Young Ebenezer. Jon Oles is a likable Bob Cratchit. And Tuesday Provencio, in a role that is often cloying, is about as fine a Tiny Tim as I have seen.

While some of the tunes are fun enough (“It’s Not My Fault,” “I Like Life,” “The Milk of Human Kindness,” “The Minister’s Cat”), others are forgettable, and the show has none of those big showstoppers you later find yourself humming. Brianna Gowland's choreography to the recorded soundtrack is festive, energetic and generally well conceived.

Kelly Latham’s lighting designs evoke in turns the celebratory and the spooky. Russell Medeiros’ rather minimal set accommodates the action, including some big dance scenes, well enough. Unfortunately, the pictures hanging on the wall at the rear of the stage — presumably to comment on the tale and its milieu — are for the most part simply too small to be read by most of the audience.

There is, I believe, a weakness in the second act of Bricusse’s version of the story, and it jumps out at you. When Scrooge drinks some of the milk of human kindness offered by the Ghost of Christmas Present, he’s instantly transformed into a grinning reveler. Wowsa! It’s as if he’s ingested Bacardi 151 punch infused with high-grade cannabis and spiked with love juice by Shakespeare’s Puck.

In a tale of redemption, it’s jarring to see what should be hard-won wisdom bloom instantly. Dickens’ genius was to take seriously Scrooge's spiritual aridity and creep up on the conversion and the emotional climax. But this is a Christmas story, not a Shakespearean romance, and audiences prove that time has shown its appeal.

"Scrooge, The Musical" continues through Dec. 27 at the Randall, 10 E. Third St., Medford. For tickets, visit www.randalltheatre.com or call 541-632-3258.

Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at varble.bill@gmail.com.

William Coyne plays Ebenezer Scrooge in Randall Theatre's production of 'Scrooge! The Musical.' Photo courtesy of Randall Theatre