Scrooge the Musical at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore hardly needs an introduction to tell you what it’s all about! It’s the timeless classic Christmas story of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, which has seen probably more interpretations and remakes than any other Christmas story in history, set to a wonderful score. While you have probably seen countless interpretations (or even other stage productions) of A Christmas Carol over the years, if you have never seen Scrooge the Musical with book, music, and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, you should do your best to hop on over to Artistic Synergy of Baltimore in Rosedale to get a heaping dose of Christmas spirit, experience a great night of theatre, and experience the catchy and lovely score!
Directed with a firm hand by B. Thomas Rinaldi, the production scores many more hits than misses. The space at Artistic Synergy (Prince of Peace Church in Rosedale) is very small with a low ceiling, and utilizing the space well to immerse the audience, portray decent sound and lighting, and maneuver a larger cast size can be a challenge. One of the biggest strengths of this production is the staging. Rinaldi utilizes every inch of space on stage, in front of the stage, and even around the audience incredibly well. The staging leaves the audience feeling like they are part of the production, and there is never a moment where you lose part of the action or have your attention drawn to a place where it shouldn’t be. The cast also has some audience interaction, most notably during Scrooge’s song “I Hate People,” with great effect.
Rinaldi also clocks some overtime as Set Designer and Choreographer for the production. The set design is very minimal, mainly a black-on-black theme with black drop curtains on the back of the stage and surrounding the audience. While at first this seemed like an odd choice (no Christmas decorations!? Where’s the color!?), it actually works quite well and leaves a vague nostalgic feeling of watching the old black-and-white movie version of A Christmas Carol. It also helps to move the scene changes along at a brisk pace, with the scenes being determined by minimal set pieces expertly coming on and off the stage (Scrooge and Cratchit’s desks, etc.). The choreography leaves something to be desired, as there was not much of it, however it seemed to be just the right amount and level of difficulty for the cast to be comfortable with it. There are two numbers in the show that have the opportunity for some great full-cast choreography: “December the 25th” and “Thank You Very Much,” but the choreography did not do much to lift the energy and spirit of the songs. Considering the confines of the stage and space, this could have been a deliberate choice.
Ed Berlett doubles as Music Director and live pianist for the production, and does a bang-up job. The cast was on-point with their harmonies, and the rounded vocal parts in “Thank You Very Much” (and its reprise). He does a decent job at cueing and following the performers with only the piano driving the music in the show. The lighting design by Daniel DeJong was mostly effective, but had some odd moments. The standing light trees at the back of the audience are perhaps too obtrusive for the space, and they ended up lighting the audience as much as the stage most of the time. Aside from some occasional mic issues dropping the performers and some feedback, the sound was well-balanced and the performers could always be heard over the music.
Costumes were perhaps the most fascinating and effective part of the production. Aside from Scrooge and Mrs. Cratchit’s costumes being lent from House of Bankerd, the cast brought their own costumes to the mix, and what an amazing effect it had! Every costume was 100% period (even the younger cast members), and they shone like Christmas beacons against the black set design. Nick Ruth, as both Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Future, had consummate costumes for both roles, most especially as Marley. Melissa Broy Fortson’s costume as the Ghost of Christmas Present, with her massive green Christmas-y cloak, was perfection. Scrooge’s outfits appeared to be transported right out of the mid-1800’s. Mrs. Fezziwig looked like Christmas cornucopia, and young Isabelle was gorgeous in her pieces. It’s rare that a self-costuming cast has such a grand success, and we cannot congratulate the cast enough on the victories that were deservedly won in this area.
John Andrew as Bob Cratchit was a perfect casting decision, in both look and personality. Bob Cratchit’s picture should be next to the definitions for Meek, Kind, and Humble in the dictionary, and Andrew perfectly portrays all these traits against the cruel tyranny of Scrooge. He held a balance of being beaten down by the world and hope in the face of despair wonderfully, which lent well to his touching rendition of “Christmas Children.”
Nick Ruth, standing close to six-and-a-half feet tall already, makes a resounding and prolific entrance as Jacob Marley, resplendent in various chains (some a bright and ghostly fluorescent green!) and padlocks. His raspy ghost voice probably scared Scrooge enough that he didn’t even need to act! His quiet and ominous Ghost of Christmas Future was intimidating, mysterious, and ominous. The young Emma Hester as the Ghost of Christmas Past leads Scrooge down his initial path of redemption, and her line delivery as the Ghost compliments the costume and characterization. Melissa Broy Fortson is as big and jolly as the Ghost of Christmas Present should and could be, and her booming infectious laugh is a delight. She also injects some much-needed humor to the story at just the right times, and does a fine job with “I Like Life.”
Tom Rendulic and Monica Areford as Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig were right out of the original story. Rendulic’s Fezziwig has a perfectly bright, jolly, indefatigable Christmas spirit to contrast against Scrooge’s miser, and Areford’s haughty disbelief at Scrooge is palpable. Both roles could not have been cast better, and Rendulic also doubles as Old Joe later on the show with equal amounts of success.
Other stand-outs in the cast include Avery McCann as Tiny Tim with his on-pitch boy soprano rendition of “The Beautiful Day,” Juan Hunter as Scrooge’s nephew Fred (even without a British accent, his delivery is impressive and soulful), and the Cratchit family as a whole. Michael Maistros looks like he’s having maybe a little too much fun dancing on Scrooge’s coffin during “Thank You Very Much.”
Jim Fitzpatrick, as the titular character of Scrooge, could not have portrayed this character more effectively. His Scrooge in the beginning of the show is equal doses of anger, misery, and delight in causing misery to others. Watching the transitions of his character flesh out through the show as each Ghost makes itself known to Scrooge is rightfully touching, and he tells the story masterfully. His sad, quiet, and soulful “You…You” immediately pulls the audience into sympathy for Scrooge, and “I’ll Begin Again” as he reaches the climax of his newly reformed soul and zest for life hits the emotion right on the head. Fitzpatrick, if you have had a chance to see him in any other shows around the area over the years, is well-known for his powerful tenor voice. While this show and its songs do not showcase his voice, he never overplayed his hand vocally and instead imbued each of his songs with just the right amount of emotion and soul.
If you’re in need of some Christmas Spirit, or just want a little boost, make sure to catch Artistic Synergy of Baltimore’s production of Scrooge, and to the cast and crew, we say THANK YOU VERY MUCH!
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with one intermission
Scrooge plays through December 17, 2017 at Artistic Synergy in the basement of the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church— 8212 Philadelphia Road in Rosedale, MD. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at (410) 833-5181 or by purchasing them online.