MUSICAL Scrooge Dominion Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture
"London's Christmas Cracker", the billboards breezily proclaim. Why, it's enough to have you taking the H-word right out of Ebenezer Scrooge's mouth. Except that you know full well it would stick in your throat. It's that Charles Dickens "throwing himself on the feeling of the people", it's all that peace and goodwill, redemption and re-birth. Gets to you every time. And it's Anthony Newley, seizing Scrooge's second chance as though he himself were beginning again. He's been on the road with this one for almost as long as Jacob Marley's ghost, and given past history and the size of the talent, that's a crying shame. But then, you watch him in the final minutes of the show, rejoicing in Scrooge's new-found magnanimity. And the snow begins to fall, and there's that moment where Kathy Cratchit curtsies to him, and he's left centre-stage, bewildered but suddenly proud. And that big, booming Newley vibrato is summoned up from somewhere deep inside him and off he goes into the shadow of St Paul's "to begin again". And he's got to you, he really has.

It's good to see him back on a London stage. The charm, the comic sleight of hand, the schmaltzy big-heartedness - they can still work a room. I'd pay good money to see his slow-burn reaction to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come for a second time. But he's better than this show - most anybody is. You know you're in trouble when you're watching a musical thinking that it would make a good musical. Truth is, Leslie Bricusse's show is more A Christmas Carol than it is Scrooge - the emotional stakes go down not up with the musical numbers. Put simply- who needs them? They neither illuminate nor enhance Bricusse's at best pedestrian book. You go in humming the tunes without ever having heard them. Meaning that you know exactly what's coming next, that you can mix and match them at will, with such catchy song titles as "I Hate People", "I Like Life", and the irrepressible "December the Twenty-Fifth" - a chirpy cockney knees-up so irritating (and if you think the title's bad, you should hear the lyric) that one is tempted to side with Ebenezer and rewrite the plot. Or buy Bricusse a new rhyming dictionary for Christmas. The sad thing is, of course, that he and Newley go back a long way and in some style. Bricusse is a more than useful collaborator, we know of old. But Book, Music, and Lyrics? Few are equal to that task. To coin the title of the hit song - thank you very much, but no.

The show itself comes to the Dominion shrouded in so much dry ice that Paul Farnsworth's scrag-end of old London set actually looks rather atmospheric. There are plenty of crowd-pleasing sight gags, spook-house apparitions, hey-presto arrivals and disappearances, the obligatory flying, a toy shop ballet - and more dry ice. But precious little wit or wonder. The lapses into pure pantomime are many, reaching an apogee with the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Present (David Alder, still undecided as to whether he's playing Widow Twanky or Abenazar) aboard something redolent of the grotto at Debenhams. But both the story and the star are pretty indestructible, even if you do sit there thinking what a fine Fagin or Tevye Newley would make. Who knows, in a Christmas yet to come perhaps there'll even be something new for him.

To 1 Feb 1997. Booking: 0171-416 6052

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