Meyer2Meyer Entertainment’s Madame Scrooge, which opened at the Nocturne Theatre in Glendale on December 1, finds a clever solution to the to the tricky problem of how to stage a production of A Christmas Carol that will add something new without undermining the original text. The most obvious innovation is announced in the play’s title – transforming the central figure of Scrooge from a miserly man into a woman – but equally important, though less obviously “new,” is the use of musical numbers to tell the story.
This combination, along with some imaginative costume and creature designs for the spirits haunting Scrooge, preserves the essence of Charles Dickens’ classic tale while bringing its familiar elements to life in delightfully unfamiliar ways. Both newcomers and fans should enjoy the show, even though the soundmix (at least on opening weekend) sometimes made it difficult to follow the lyrics.
Madame Scrooge Review: Gender Swap
If you know A Christmas Carol, you know the story of Madame Scrooge, but the book and lyrics by Justin Patrick Meyer make a few strategic changes to slightly condense the plot and introduce some new ideas. Bob Cratchit is now a widower, and we do not spend time with his family on Christmas Day. Scrooge’s fiancé is lurking around in the present day, opening the possibility of a reconciliation. Most notably, in the scenes of Christmas Past, Scrooge’s relationship with her sister, Fran, is considerably different.
In Madame Scrooge, Fran removes Scrooge from school not to reunite her with father but to remove her from an institution dedicated to turning young girls into wives. Fran wants her younger sister to get an education that will enable her to become a success without having to get married, even if paying for that education forces Fran to do terrible things (never spelled out explicitly but we can guess that prostiution played a role).
Obviously, this provides a different context for Madame Scrooge’s pursuit of wealth: she is capitalizing on the sacrifices Fran made for her, sacrifices that saved her from having to choose between marriage and poverty – and specifically, a form of poverty far more degrading to women. So we can fully understand the chip on Scrooge’s shoulder when she proclaims her indifference to the suffering of others by singing, “Life Isn’t Fair.”
Unfortunately, this note of understanding – if not outright empathy – with Scrooge’s avarice is about as far as the play goes in justifying the switch of the character’s gender. When she breaks up with her fiancé, it is for the same old reason: he is content to be poor, and she is not. There is no suggestion that he would feel emasculated by being married to a woman who is the family’s real breadwinner, which could have given even more reason for us to appreciate Scrooge’s decision to remain a wealthy spinster.
The consequence of this is that, without apparent intent, Madame Scrooge comes perilously close to depicting its titular character as the archetypal woman unhappy because she chose career over marriage – an interpretation supported by the fact that her rebirth at the conclusion depends not just on embracing generosity for her fellow man but on reconnecting with her fiancé. Other adapations of A Christmas Carol have shown us what happened to Scrooge’s betrothed after breaking off their engagement, and Jack Thorn’s much lauded stage version even had the two reconcile their differences, but Madame Scrooge is probably the first version of the tale to have them reunited and destined for the altar.
Madame Scrooge Review: Music & Monsters
Besides turning Scrooge into a woman, Madame Scrooge finds a couple of other ways to put a new spin on the classic tale: music and monsters.
Well, not exactly monsters, but the production leans in on its eye-catching depictions of the spirits haunting Scrooge, which feature the surreal and stylish design aesthetics seen in Meyer2Meyer’s annual Halloween show, Haunted Soirée. Marley is not only dead as a doornail; he is a skeletal nightmare accompanied by an equally ghastly chorus line who sing and dance with spectral aplomb as they admonish Scrooge to renounce her greedy ways. Even more bizarre is Christmas Future: no longer a black-clad ringer for the Grim Reaper, this Spirit is a multi-armed apparition whose robes suggest a Mystic from Beyond, dispensing foreknowledge both insightful and terrifying.
Less fearsome but no less imaginative are the Spirits of Christmas Past (essentially a walking ornament) and Christmas Present (horns and foliage suggesting a pagan nature god). Even the chorus line wear masks that exaggerate their features into caricatures of British character types.
As much as the designs give us something worth seeing, the original score gives us something worth hearing. The recorded music resounds with the rich textures and orchestrations of a Broadway musical, and the songs are loaded with catchy melodies in a number of different styles, from the New Orleans jazz of Marley’s number to the “Fever”-ish minor-key rhythm-and-blues of “Life Isn’t Fair,” which turns out to be an applause-worthy show-stopper that fully warrants its reprise just before intermission.
Equally important is the strategic placement of the songs within the narrative. Dickens’ novelette is filled with memorable moments that have been filmed and staged so many times in the past that fans can quote the dialogue verbatim (e.g., “There’s more of gravy than of grave about you”). Therefore, the challenge facing any new adaptation is how to present these scenes in a way that does not feel like simply re-roasting old chestnuts.
What Madame Scrooge does is transform these peak moments into songs. When the audience tenses in anticipation of a favorite line, characters start singing lyrics that incorporate the familiar dialogue. Thus, expectations are not met but exceeded, and the been-there-done-that feel is avoided as the musical numbers deliver and amplify the emotional impact of the scene. It’s a great way of eating one’s candy cane and having it, too.
The only downside is that the lyrics are not always clearly audible. The actors are miked to sing live, but sometimes the recorded musical accompaniment obscures their voices. Solos and duets are relatively easy to hear, but when the full chorus kicks in, listeners have to settle for enjoying the harmonies without understanding the lyrics. This is especially true for characters wearing masks, which suggests the problem is not just the sound mix but the placement of microphones. Fortunately, you are not likely to lose track of the story if you are familiar with the tale; you may even be able to sort out the lyrics if you remember the book’s most famous lines.
Madame Scrooge Review: Conclusion
After years of producing distinctive Halloween experiences, Meyer2Meyer Entertainment’s first full-blown theatrical production in their new home at the Nocturne Theatre is a winner. Sound problems aside, Madame Scrooge delivers a novel and entertaining interpretation of Dickens’ classic – close enough in tone and style to please fans of the company’s House of Spirits and Bite LA, while appealing to newcomers as well. The character design lends a surreal stylization to the story’s supernatural elements, and the musical score makes the show sound much bigger than it is, like a major Broadway production squeezed into a relatively modest performance space. The performers embody the beloved characters in terms of both acting and singing, especially Stephanie Hodgdon in the title role, who hits some amazing notes and registers so strongly that her mere presence justifies casting her in a role traditionally played by a man.
As if that were not enough, the curtain call turns mildly interactive, with the cast tossing “snowballs” (actually soft fabric) into the audience, who enthusiastically toss them back. In addition to the performance, Madame Scrooge offers cocktails themed to the holiday season in the lobby bar. The final frosting on the cake is simulated snow outside the Nocturne Theatre as audiences exit after the show.
1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
Whether or not you think casting a woman as Scrooge is a good idea, Madame Scrooge is an enjoyable variation on Dickens’ Christmas classic, with lively songs, imaginative designs, and a great lead performance. The only reason we do not rate it more highly is a sound mix that made many of the lyrics difficult to understand.
Credits: Book and Lyrics by Justin Patrick Meyer. Musical Score and Orchestrations by Chris Thomas. Ghosts and Creature Design by Tanya Cyr. Scenic and Stage Design by Jay Michael Roberts. Runtime: two hours (with intermission).
Madame Scrooge continues on weekends and select Thursdays through December 23, with performances starting at 7:30pm on Thursdays, 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2pm on Sundays. Tickets range from $11.50 to $47.50 depending on seating (in the round). The Nocturne Theatre is 324 N. Orange Street in Glendale. Get more information at thenocturnetheatre.com.
Madame Scrooge Photo Gallery