A CHRISTMAS CAROL: THE MUSICAL

(2004 - TV)  (Hungary - U.S.)
With Kelsey Grammer, Jason Alexander, Jane Krakowski, Jesse L. Martin, Geraldine Chaplin, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Steven Miller, Edward Gower, Julian Ovenden
Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman
Reviewed by JB

If you lost out on Jennifer Love Hewitt, you'd be cranky too.     A Christmas operetta that had its origins on the stage, this Hallmark television production may not top the more famous musical version of 1970 starring Albert Finney, but it is a cordial, family-friendly bit of Christmas cheer that does reasonable justice to the Dickens classic.

     With its mix of movie stars, stage stars and TV favorites, A CHRISTMAS CAROL: THE MUSICAL is certainly interestingly cast.  Actor, singer and hoofer Jesse L. Martin (Law and Order) is the best of the three spirits as a Ghost of Christmas Present, while Geraldine Chaplin plays an eerie "Snow Queen" variation of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be.  Jane Krakowski is perhaps too pretty and revealingly clad to be completely believable as the Ghost of Christmas Past, not a problem for the equally picturesque Jennifer Love Hewitt (Party of Five, The Ghost Whisperer), who is just "love"-ly in the always thankless role of Scrooge's lost love (here known as Emily).  The strangest casting of all is Jason Alexander (Seinfeld) playing an offbeat Jacob Marley, looking for all the world like Danny DeVito's Penguin from BATMAN RETURNS, in a Tim Burtonesque visitation scene in which several other shackled ghosts make themselves at home at the Scrooge manor.  (The Ghost of Christmas Past scenes also owe more than a nod and a wink to Burton's distinctive visual style.) 

     Kelsey Grammer does an adequate job as Ebenezer Scrooge, although, with his distinct comic mannerisms, honed from 20 years of playing the same classic character on two different television series, it takes almost an hour to shake the feeling that he is playing Dr. Crane in a very special episode of Frazier. The inherent problem in the role is a rough one to solve: how to play the meanest man in the world and later the nicest, and still make it feel like the same person.  Of my favorite versions, Alistair Sim and Albert Finney manage this problem the best, while Reginald Owen does better as the mean Scrooge.  Grammer, on the other hand, is merely a decent "miserly" Scrooge but a near-wonderful redeemed Scrooge, starting out nearly as giddy as Sim before toning it down to a more Reginald Owenish state of bliss.

Christmas is Love!     The music, by Disney and Broadway veteran Alan Menken, is pleasant enough, although much of it is in that curious style of recent musicals where the melodies and lyrics seem to have been auto-composed by a computer programmed to produce extremely pleasing and inoffensive sounds that evaporate a moment after they are heard.  Of the many songs presented here, only "Link by Link", "Mr. Fezziwig's Annual Christmas Ball" and "God Bless Us, Everyone" really stand out, although the best purely musical moment may the the three-part harmony provided by Grammer, Hewitt and Steven Miller (as young Scrooge) in the Disneyesque piece of fluff titled "There's a Place Called Home".

      A CHRISTMAS CAROL: THE MUSICAL premiered on television in 2004.  It may take many years for it to come into its own, as so many other Christmas films have before it.  But enjoy it now for what it is - yet another version of one of the most-often retold tales, starring a bunch of talented people you probably already really like from other films and television shows.  That doesn't sound like a bad way to spend a couple of hours during the Christmas season, does it?  ½ - JB

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