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Review: This twist on A Christmas Carol has a few too many Scrooges loose

Plumbum, played by Dan Chameroy, visits Scrooge as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future to help him see the error of his greedy ways.

Racheal McCaig/The Globe and Mail

2.5 out of 4 stars

Title
Elgin Theatre
Written by
Matt Murray, Jeremy Diamond
Directed by
Tracey Flye
Actors
Cyrus Lane, Dan Chameroy

After 22 years in the holiday pantomime business, producer Ross Petty has turned away from fairy tales as his public-domain source material for the first time to an actual Christmas story. Indeed, instead of yet another Cinderella or Peter Pan, he's staging a version of that great anti-capitalist cash cow: A Christmas Carol.

Of course, Charles Dickens's famous novella becomes filled with pop songs and has its plot fractured, perhaps even broken, in the process as you'd expect from a panto – or, as the subtitle style it, a "family musical with a Scrooge loose."

Ebenezer Scrooge (the Stratford Festival's Cyrus Lane, unleashing his always barely leashed inner ham) is here not a Christmas hater, but a Christmas exploiter – whose assistant Bob Cratchit (perennial Petty pal Eddie Glen) helps run a scheme where his Humbug singers raise money for a fake charity during the holidays.

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Additionally, Cratchit has developed a new app for Scrooge Enterprises called Christmas Crush that aims to be downloaded on as many children's smartphones as possible – and steal their Christmas Spirit to make him rich. (No, I don't quite understand the plot – or what era we're in – either.)

Naturally, Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future who help him see the error of his greedy, greedy ways. In this case, all three ghosts come in the form of Plumbum – the much-loved character played by Dan Chameroy in clown make-up and a dress who has been a part of Petty productions off and on for a decade now.

Plumbum – "plum, like the sauce; bum, like most of the men I've dated," she says by way of introduction – has softened over the years, is a little less dirty-mouthed than she used to be, but remains a charming comic creation – and the more Chameroy improvises off script, the funnier. A monologue he seemed to pull out of thin air in the graveyard scene, summarizing the future, had me in stiches and Scrooge as well. (I saw the final preview of the show, but a little corpsing is always permitted in panto.)

There's a B-plot in this Christmas Carol, an entirely invented part in the overwritten script by Matt Murray (librettist on Rumspinga Break!) and Jeremy Diamond (creator of Odd Job Jack).

Jane (AJ Bridel) is a Scrooge Enterprises employee who goes on strike on Christmas Eve seeking equal pay for the women in the company. While out picketing, she falls in love with a mysterious young man named Jack (Kyle Golemba), who, even when his true identity is revealed, seems an incomprehensible presence beyond the need for a female lead to have a male love interest.

In truth, A Christmas Carol has about twice as many men in the cast as women – and Jane's the only major part for a female actor. Men get to play two female characters – Chameroy as Plumbum, and Glen in a brief cameo of Helen So-Generous – but there are no women playing male characters, unless you count the trio of female GhostDusters who show up (which you shouldn't).

The hypocrisy of a show with a foregrounded feminist message having so few opportunities for women to take centre stage bothered the mother of the seven-year-old girl who accompanied me to A Christmas Carol – but the girl in question, whose name is Plum, said she liked the show the way it was and wouldn't change a thing. (She suggested the rating be 3.5 stars out of four.)

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I thought the idea to have Marley, Scrooge's old partner who visits him as a ghost to warn of the others, be played as Jamaican (David Lopez, in dreadlocks) was a clever gag on the part of the writers that also explicitly diversified the cast of characters a bit. Having Marley then sing Despacito instead of something by The Wailers past was more questionable – but, then again, old Scrooge had a British accent, while young Scrooge didn't, so nothing about the show is particularly culturally coherent. (Also, Lopez sang the earworm very well.)

As Jane, Bridel (who was in Kinky Boots and the one I wanted to win on CBC's Over the Rainbow talent competition back in the day) is definitely the stand-out singer, however – her parts on Stevie Wonder's Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing and Shawn Mendes's There's Nothing Holdin' Me Back had me grooving the most. The rest of the singing felt a little below the usual standards – and, in the case of Michael Jackson's Thriller, it sounded like it was not in the right key for Chameroy.

On the whole, A Christmas Carol does not work as well as a fairy tale for a panto – not offering enough opportunities for group dance numbers (which are great fun when director/choreographer Tracey Flye gets to stage them) and having too set a structure. Also, because its villain is also its main character that means it's very unclear how often you should be booing. I would have liked to boo a bit more if I could change one thing.

A Christmas Carol: The Family Musical With a Scrooge Loose (Rosspetty.com) continues to Dec. 31.

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Theatre critic

J. Kelly Nestruck is The Globe's theatre critic. More

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