Mackay Musical Comedy Players and Mackay Choral Society are two Mackay institutions that have been around for so long that they have become backbones of our community. Separately, they have been giving talented locals the opportunity to step into the spotlight for a little while culturing multiple audiences a year, so it was exciting to learn that they were collaborating at long last with the production of the musical Scrooge.
Scrooge, of course, is a musical adaption of Charles Dickens’s beloved tale, A Christmas Carol, therefore the protagonist’s name, the expression ‘Bah Humbug’ and this story of redemption has been synonymous with the Spirit of Christmas for almost two hundred years and for good reason. There have been multiple adaptions of this story over time and I’m personally a big fan of the Muppets version, which I grew up with… however this was my first time seeing the musical and it was everything I knew it would be and the perfect production to see this time of year. I am so glad I got to see it on opening night, because from the moment the curtains opened, I was instantly overwhelmed by an influx of Christmas Spirit, which personally, is something that’s harder and harder to hold onto now that I’m in my mid-thirties and responsible for my family’s Christmas joy. In fact, you’re inundated with it from the moment you walk into the foyer and hear the carolers singing from the balcony above! They sounded so seamless that I honestly thought it was a recording until I realized everyone was looking up behind me.
Naturally, Ebenezer Scrooge was the main character of the production and I am so pleased that local theatre veteran John Hadok was given the part because it was an incredibly heavy role that undoubtedly carried the weight of the entire show from opening to close. I was astonished by his ability to do so without breaking a sweat and awed by how he just went from strength to strength as the story unfolded, embodying the character so authentically from shift to shift- as convincing as a miser as he was as a man bitten by so many Christmas Spirits. His voice was lovely to listen to all the way through, but by the end, it became clear that he had been carefully controlling it from the start so that his voice would climax as the story did and that was a wonderful thing to see and hear. Though John was front and centre for most of the show’s duration, I found myself distracted by him and giggling uncontrollably in one of the scenes near the end, where he is witnessing people dancing on his future self’s coffin and having a jolly good time right up near the back because he was oblivious to the fact that the townspeople were celebrating his demise. I don’t think we were supposed to be focusing on him at that point, but his facial expressions were so engaging that for me it was almost impossible to look away from his shenanigans. This is one actor whom once he’s on, he stays on and when he got upset, I was tempted to get up and get him a cup of tea, a cookie, and a hug because he is just so believable.
Of course, John was supported by a fantastic cast and the other leads all brought with them the emotions they were scripted to present. Every time there was a harmony my ears would pick up on an incredibly rich tone, which almost always drew my eye to Zahrah Andrews who backed up a flawless and very natural performance as Ethel Cratchit with her stunning vocals and Ben Clutterbuck was very likable as her husband, Bob Cratchit. Jennifer Bee and Jack McDougall blew the audience away with their own solos, and Ken Martin and Greg Webb were hilarious in their more comedic roles as the ghost of Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Present respectively. Rosemary Shanks was warm and authentic as Jocelyn Jollygoode and Ken Brown and Joe Fortescue brought a lot of energy and very polished performances to their own parts.
There were lots of other smaller roles, giving ensemble members and minor leads a chance to shine and of course the entire thing was backed by a live choir, conducted by the Con’s own Nicole Thomson and accompanied by Mackay’s very seasoned and demanded piano player, Judith Brown. Where those two go, flawless music always follows and they got an incredible sound out of the cast. Unfortunately there were a few moments where microphones dropped out, so a few entries and exits and a bit of dialogue was lost along the way, but the entire cast and directing team held it together professionally nonetheless by watching their repetiteur like a hawk and were quick to project more audibly in order to compensate for the technical troubles so it didn’t detract from the production much at all. The singers delivered some incredible notes throughout the course of the production too and it was lovely to hear those classical, well-trained touches because they are imperative to this particular genre.
The sets were minimal for Scrooge, but in the sense that it was just enough to set the mood without overcrowding the stage and every prop and set piece was perfectly designed and taken on and off by the crew in a circumspect and very polished manner. The costumes, however, were incredibly striking and detailed and the ensemble was almost always on at once, so the way they were positioned and dressed was lovely, making them a living, breathing set of their own. The choreography was minimal but delightful and the coupled off dances were a lot of fun to watch and I absolutely loved the phantom scene, because not only was Ken Martin’s costume a complete work of art but the way the phantoms moved together was exactly what that moment needed. There was a very romantic vibe to the entire thing, making you feel like you’d actually stepped into the pages of this old world tale, which did not surprising at all because Marina Duncan is the go-to director when it comes to putting on a musical that calls for tradition with a touch of whimsy.
No production is flawless and I felt like the flaws in Scrooge were part of what made it so charming. I know that this was a first for a lot of people; you’ve got a team of seasoned musical theatre actors paired up with a choir that’s not accustomed to acting or dancing while they sing paired up with a lot of young ones making their stage debuts, so there were a lot of cases of visible nerves, whether that be in a fleeting look of panic, or watching the feet of those dancing around them, or shaky smiles from someone who you just know are wondering how they ended up there but I honestly loved those moments. After years of seeing so many impeccably polished performances it was lovely to see those nerves peep through at times- to see people overcoming their debut jitters and reaching down deep inside themselves with this desire to be all they can be and getting there because that is what community theatre is about. Some of those kids have never been in a big show before and they’ve been up until ten every night this week rehearsing so they can impress not only their mums and dads but a roomful of strange and expectant faces, so seeing their massive grins when it came to the bows was very moving and I impressed on a whole by how well the ensemble worked as a unit because they brought a wonderful, warm and very Christmas-y energy to the stage every time they were on.
On the whole, Scrooge was a fantastic production and I hear it’s close to being sold out, so make sure you get your tickets for the remaining performances quick so that you don’t miss out! Not only is it great for adults to be reminded of the true spirit of Christmas, but I really think this is one of those shows that you need to take children to in order to help them appreciate all they have at this time of year too. I will warn you, however, make sure you take a jacket because heat wave or not- it can get freezing inside the Conservatorium. Also, take a few extra dollars in cash so you can support the companies by buying a program and some of the lovely snacks and drinks provided before the show and during the interval.