Welcome to the first "Preview Review" on All That Dazzles. They will be similar to normal reviews with the only difference being the show is still in previews. Any reviews of shows that haven't officially opened yet should be taken with a pinch of salt as the run of previews can often be a work in progress and an opportunity to fix the bits that don't work to ensure the show is as good as it gets by the time it properly opens. With that in mind, any preview reviews will not carry a star rating at the end as a nod to the fact it may still be unfinished. So without any further ado, let's go back 200 years... well, 3 days ago.
Who doesn't love A Christmas Carol? Charles Dickens iconic novel was published 200 years ago and has since been performed repeatedly in new and varied adaptations - from movies starring Jim Carrey to seemingly every other open theatre this Christmas having their own production. It has become a staple of Christmas and loved by everyone. Was that a Bah Humbug I heard?
This production is a musical penned by the legendary Alan Menken. Last seen in London in 2018, it is not a version I was familiar with - so apart from knowing the classic story, the songs and other elements of the production were a surprise to me. A Christmas Carol is playing the Dominion Theatre - one of the biggest theatres in the West End, re-opening after nine long months.
The first thing to comment on with this production is the music. Alan Menken. Known for writing the music to Disney classics such as Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Tangled and Beauty and the Beast, Menken clearly knows how to write a classic song. While there is nothing in A Christmas Carol quite as memorable as his Disney musicals, that is not to say the songs aren't still glorious in their own right. The music is stunning. Performed on stage with the London Musical Theatre Orchestra, the music is stunning. Led by the incomparable Freddie Tapner, there is nothing like watching an orchestra bring such a gorgeous sound to life on a stage. A particular highlight of the night was the truly stunning Entr'acte
For the cast. some of the best talents in the West End have been picked. Lucie Jones swaps her Waitress apron for an outfit seemingly raided from Glinda the Good Witch's closet for a beautiful if not too brief appearance as The Ghost of Christmas Past. Her solo number 'The Lights of Long Ago' is a real highlight. Last years 'I'm A Celebrity' winner Jacqueline Jossa is more admirable playing Emily than she is as the mute Ghost of Christmas Future. The ghosts are completed by the always wonderful Cedric Neal as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Soon to be seen in next years Back To The Future, Cedric always brings the house down with truly scene-stealing roles and this is no different. His big number 'Abundance and Charity' is the standout number of the night and showcased why Cedric is one of the greatest performers around today.
Matt Jay-Willis of Busted fame is on hand to play Bob Cratchet with Rebecca Lock as his wife, Sam Oladeinde plays Young Scrooge, and Sandra Marvin and Martyn Ellis play Mrs and Mr Fezziwig in another highlight of the show. While everybody on stage is great in their own respect, a lot of the cast are barely on stage throughout the show - often leaving you wanting more.
The cast is led by Brian Conley as Ebenezer Scrooge. Better known as a TV personality, his unforgettable appearance in 9 to 5 has shown how capable he is on stage. Oozing charisma even when he is being a loathsome old miser, he is on stage for the majority of the show and is always captivating - though the use of chains during showstopping number 'Link by link' did give me unfortunate flashbacks to him being tied up in 9 to 5 - perhaps not the right tone for this family friendly show.
While this is billed more as a concert, I did hope for more from the staging. Temporarily moving in to the theatre in-between The Prince of Egypt runs means it is borrowing their stage so are limited with what they can do for this production. Still, I would have liked the ghosts entrances to be slightly more effective than they were. Watching the cast bang open tables and drawers to create a ghostly effect felt more amateurish than you would expect at such a large theatre. But any theatre is better than none at the moment so that can definitely be forgiven.
The show ended with a hilarious and heartwarming speech from Brian Conley. After the first of three standing ovations and rapturous applause, he said "We've all waited a long time for that sound. It was worth it" before thanking us for our money and speaking to all of our hearts when talking about how important theatre is.
My first visit to a major West End theatre in 9 months, I was intrigued to how the safety measures would work. I can say with certainty that I felt completely safe. Social distancing measures were strictly followed with empty seats next to and directly behind every bubble. Usually the sight of a half empty Dominion Theatre (and believe me, I've seen it emptier than this) would be a sad affair, but in light of recent events it was definitely more a case of glass half full this time around. Temperature checks, compulsory face masks during the show and an ordering service of merchandise and to your seats meant that you did not come in close contact with others and crowds were managed. Sitting in there, I felt safer than I would at the supermarket - making it all the more frustrating that theatres have had to close again in Tier 3 areas.
In summary, this was a fantastic show to return to the theatre for. With a brilliant (albeit underused) cast, a beautiful score flawlessly performed on stage by an incredible orchestra and a festive classic to watch, Towards the end of the show, I witnessed an elderly man sobbing - the fact theatre can provoke such intense reactions in people is a testament to how powerful and important theatre really isthis proved why theatre is so important and why we shouldn't ever be forced to live without it.. With a few small tweaks, this show could be amazing - I'd be keen to see what does change ahead of its official opening next week.
A Christmas Carol plays at the Dominion Theatre until January 2nd 2021. Tickets are available from nederlander.co.uk
I'll be attending most of the first previews of shows due to open in the West End next year so look out for more preview reviews, and please support your local theatres and venture out to them if you feel comfortable enough to do so.