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Old hand Tommy serves up a treat; ROGER DOMENEGHETTI reviews Scrooge The Musical, at Sunderland Empire - on until Saturday.

WITH the nights drawing in and Christmas fast approaching on the horizon, Scrooge has arrived at the Sunderland Empire.

Sticking faithfully to the plot of Dickens' tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghostly apparitions who visit him on the night before Christmas, we join the eponymous miser on a musical journey through the past, present and future as learns to mend his ways and earns redemption.

Scrooge was written by Leslie Bricusse in 1970 for the film staring Albert Finney.

While it may not be as wellknown as its elder cousin Oliver! (written 10 years earlier) and lacks as many memorable tunes, the audience is, none-the-less, in the hands of a master songwriter - Bricusse has two Oscars and a Grammy to his name - although his version does play up the comic elements of Dickens' masterpiece at the expense of the darker social commentary. The title role is played by the eternally young Tommy Steele - reprising the lead role for the fourth time.

While it seems churlish to accuse a 73-year-old who is twice as active as most men half his age for looking too young and being too cheerful, it is precisely this that means Steele lacks the dark, mean-spirited menace Scrooge needs in the early part of the story to allow the audience to truly appreciate the change in him that his frightening Christmas Eve brings - the one small downside to his performance.

That said, Steele is an accomplished entertainer and good musical direction coupled with strong performances throughout create a polished ensemble production.

In particular, Barry Howard as Jacob Marley and James Head as Christmas Present own their parts - and many in the audience were on the feet cheering at the end.

The sets transport the audience to a beautifully, cosy Christmas-card vision of snow-swept Victorian London, while the special effects - created by magician Paul Kieve, who has received plaudits for his work on the Harry Potter movies - add a touch of wonder to the ghosts.

While some little ones might find a few parts a touch frightening, this musical is the perfect way for the family to spend a half-term evening.

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MASTER MISER Tommy Steele, left, plays Scrooge for a fourth time
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 27, 2010
Words:367
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