A sophisticated entry in the field of holiday offerings, Estella Scrooge: A Christmas Carol With A Twist is a Christmastime musical with plenty of Easter eggs for Dickens fans. The production was meticulously shot using green screen and video effects to blend a seasoned cast with eye-popping images. The result combines the best elements of a Broadway show with a movie spectacular.
The story hits all the well-known beats of the classic about a miser who learns a lesson, but frames them in a way that is fresh and original. In this reimagining, Scrooge is the CEO of Bleak House, a predatory financial company. Their health insurance policies never pay out and their mortgages are designed for easy foreclosure. The overworked and underpaid Cratchet makes an appearance in the form of Scrooge’s devoted assistant, Betty, mother to the sickly Tammy. But in this instance, Estella’s journey to enlightenment begins when she returns to her childhood home of Pickwick. She arrives unannounced on Christmas Eve in order to foreclose on a hotel that has been serving as housing for those in need. The current owner is her old flame Philip “Pip” Nickleby. When a snow storm strands Ms. Scrooge at his establishment, Philip and the other residents — who include the usual ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future — seize their opportunity to change “Esty’s” hardened heart.
John Caird and Paul Gordon flesh out the book to reflect the current socio-economic challenges that sadly echo those of Dickens’ time. Rising well above many modern musicals, Gordon’s score contains a wide variety of song styles, each well suited to the person who performs it. The recurring ballad “Almost a Family” is a captivating earworm that eloquently describes the bonds that can form between people who are not necessarily blood relatives. In “Trickle Down,” economics are showcased in a jazzy number. And the Ghost of Christmas Past uses hard rock to hammer home her point. Many of the lyrics are calls to other Dickens’ classics including Hard Times, Great Expectations, and A Tale of Two Cities.
The production’s look has been skillfully retooled for the online world. Caird’s careful direction helps mimic the sense of connection and of space you would get at a live performance. Fanciful costumes provided by Somie Pak cleverly combine period with high fashion. Hair and makeup make use of Dena Olivieri’s experience with SFX. Production design by Zach Wilson fittingly fuses elements of realism and fantasy. The green screen is high quality and the actors do appear as if on the set. Some of the special effects add zest, though the work in the ghostly scenes is inferior and distracting. The sound is too low for a laptop and the work as a whole is probably better enjoyed cast onto a larger screen.
The sprawling cast is uniformly terrific. Betsy Wolfe’s Estella softens in both look and tone as she is confronted with the impact of the life she has chosen. There is a sweet relationship displayed between Clifton Duncan’s caring Nickleby and his vulnerable residents, including Em Grosland’s delicate Smike and Lauren Patten’s punkish and very artful Dawkins. The rest of the stand-out line-up includes Patrick Page, Carolee Carmello, Megan McGinnis, Adam Halpin , Sarah Litzsinger, Tom Nelis , Phoenix Best , David Bryant , Gabrielle Reid , Samuel Lee Roberts, Michael Francis McBride , Michele Lee, Kristen Faith Oei , Meg Gibson, William Youmans, Kevyn Morrow, Joziyah Jean-Felix , Brooklyn Shuck, Willow McCarthy and 2020 Tony Award Winner Danny Burstein as Estella’s great great great great grandfather Ebenezer.
The irresistible work of Charles Dickens has long made a good springboard, but not every iteration flies this high. Estella Scrooge is a captivating family entertainment that couldn’t have returned at a better time. It is available to stream on Broadway on Demand (www.BroadwayOnDemand.com and Streaming Musicals (www.StreamingMusicals.com). A 48 hour rental is $14.99 (a more sensible price than the original $29.99). The 2 hour runtime flies, though may make it unsuitable for very young children.