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Review; SCROOGE Empire.

Byline: Catherine Jones

THE Empire may be a panto-free zone this year but it doesn't mean it's ignoring the festive season.

Ahead of the all-snowy, allschmaltzy White Christmas, it's playing host to that arch humbug Ebeneezer Scrooge and his ghostly cohorts who populate Leslie Bricusse's colourful take on Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

It's a timely visit too, with both Dickens' bicentenary and the 20th anniversary of the stage musical on the horizon in 2012. And while there have been other Ebeneezers - the original Scrooge, Anthony Newley, and more recently Shane Ritchie spring to mind - over the past decade it's Tommy Steele who has made the role his own.

Steele loves Liverpool and if last night's reception was anything to go by, Liverpool loves Steele in return.

The merchant seaman turned rock 'n' roller turned national treasure is an impish Ebeneezer, a cackling, cavorting, knowing nod of a miser, combative and conciliatory in turn as he's chivvied step by step along the path to redemption, but always with a mischievous undertone.

It's a role Steele clearly relishes, and a demanding one at that - Scrooge is on stage for pretty much the entire show and sings more than a dozen numbers. But give or take a certain lightness on his highest notes, you'd never guess the actor turns 75 in a couple of weeks.

He's complemented by engaging performances from a supporting cast that features a number of Scrooge regulars including Barry Howard as Jacob Marley (whose entrance drew gasps and laughter from the adults and children) and James Head as a glitzy Hagrid of a Ghost of Christmas Present, while Joshua Boyd is a most assured Tiny Tim.

There's chocolate box Victoriana from designer Paul Farnsworth mixed with modern sleight of hand courtesy of illusionist Paul Kieve while musical director Stuart Pedlar keeps the tempo bouncing along through a series of songs which, while only a couple - Thank You Very Much being one - are memorable, form a jolly and irresistible (as you'd expect from the composer of The Candy Man and Talk to the Animals) soundtrack.

The opening song is a little cacophonous and its diction indistinct, but in general the big numbers are suitably crisp and even. As for the ending? It shamelessly tugs at the heartstrings. But then, it is Christmas after all.

8/10 heartwarming
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 6, 2011
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