REVIEW: "Estella Scrooge, A Christmas Carol With a Twist"—Streaming Musicals

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

A Ground-Breaking New Approach to Theatre!


In partnership with Streaming Musicals, Michael Jackowitz of Witzend Productions, Michael Alden Productions and David Bryant Productions presents a new digital musical this week, “Estrella Scrooge, A Christmas Carol with a Twist,” starring Betsy Wolfe (“Waitress”) in the title role and Clifton Duncan (“The Play That Goes Wrong”) as childhood sweetheart Philip “Pip” Nickleby.


Directed by John Caird, “Estella Scrooge…” took to the stage in an unprecedented collaboration of film and theatre to bring a new Christmas classic back to life—but from a whole new perspective. It’s called a Soundstage Musical, a hybrid between a film and a stage musical. The show is staged in a theatre or on a soundstage but is shot like a film, with 3 cameras and no audience. The actors sing live but most of the orchestra and underscore are filled in later.


In this case, the “Estella Scrooge” project was the first fully-realized musical to be digitally captured live entirely during the pandemic using unique, cutting-edge green screen technology, filming each actor’s performance separately, using hundreds of images, animations, intricate story-boarding, innovative workarounds and virtual sets, and bringing this dazzling cinematic musical theatre adventure magically to life just in time for Christmas, all the while under expressly strict Covid guidelines—One Day at a time, One Scene at a time, and One Actor at a time.

This Dickensian musical extravaganza is, in fact, a modern retelling of the Charles Dickens novel, “A Christmas Carol,” and wittily incorporates additional characters and plot lines from other great Dickens’ novels, such as “Great Expectations,” “Little Dorritt,” “Bleak House,” and “David Copperfield,” to name a few. And all have a reference to some degree in “Estella Scrooge.” Lauren Patten, for example, portrays a pickpocket named Dawkins, who represents the Artful Dodger, a pickpocket in “Oliver Twist.” Tom Nelis as the bellhop Dedlock (a character from the novel “Bleak House”) even gives Estella a Christmas present of a Dodgers baseball cap.


With book by John Caird (“Les Misérables,” also playing Nicholas Nickelby) and Tony winner Paul Gordon (“Jane Eyre,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Daddy Long Legs”), music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, and story by Paul Gordon, John Caird and Sam Caird, “Estella Scrooge” tells the story of a young, apathetic, Wall Street tycoon with a penchant for foreclosing properties, and who just might have a thing or two to learn about the Christmas spirit.

It seems a hotelkeeper in her hometown of Pickwick, Ohio has defaulted on his mortgage loan and subject to foreclosure. And Estella, always the opportunist, fancies the idea of doing the deed personally, so to speak. She wants to evict all the residents, raze the building and replace it with a mall. But upon arriving at Harthouse on Christmas Eve, Estella discovers that the defaulting party is none other than her teenage heartthrob, “Pip” Nickelby.


Always the humanitarian, Pip has generously transformed the property into a harborage for the sick, dispossessed, and homeless. And, as luck would have it, a freak snowstorm blows in and forces Estella to take refuge in the small town. That night, as it had happened to her great grandfather Ebenezer long ago, she too is haunted by three visitations of her past, present and future – all of whom aren’t simply ghosts anymore, but double as characters from other Dickens’ stories.


Co-starring in the show is Tony Award nominee Patrick Page (“Hadestown”) as Mr. Merdle, with Tony Award nominee Carolee Carmello (“Mamma Mia,” “Parade”) as Marla Havisham and 2020 Tony Award nominee Danny Burstein (“Moulin Rouge!”) as Ebenezer Scrooge. The cast also includes Megan McGinnis (“Little Women”) as Betty Cratchit, 2020 Tony Award nominee Lauren Patten (“Jagged Little Pill”) as Dawkins, Adam Halpin (“Dear Evan Hansen”) as Bob Cratchit, Sarah Litzinger (“Beauty and the Beast”) as Sissy Jupe, Tom Nelis (“The Visit”) as Dedlock, Em Grosland (“Emotional Creature”) as Smike, Phoenix Best (“Dear Evan Hansen”) as Charity & Mercy, David Bryant (Original Marius in Broadway’s “Les Misérables”) as Mr. Podsnap, and Gabrielle Reid (“Beautiful: The Carol King Musical”) as Mrs. Pumblechook.

Samuel Lee Roberts (“Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular”) plays Mr. Flopson, Michael Francis McBride (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater) is Mr. Dombey, Michele Lee (“Nutcracker Rouge”) is Mrs. Noggs, Kristen Faith Oei (“The King and I”) is Ms. Skiffins, Meg Gibson (“The Gabriels”) is Molly, William Youmans (“Wicked”) is Magwitch & Bagstock, Kevyn Morrow (“Moulin Rouge!”) is Jasper Jaggers, Joziyah Jean-Felix (“The Lion King”) is Young Pip, Brooklyn Shuck (“Evil”) is Young Essy and Willow McCarthy (“The Ferryman”) is Tiny Tammy.


Natalie Lamonte's choreography in this musical is delivered first class, and the entire ensemble is exemplary, almost flawless in sync and timing. Mr. Duncan and Mr. Jean-Felix, the actor who portrays Pip as a child, are both splendid and heartwarming in their portrayals. And the anthology of songs in the show are either lyrical, lovely or lively – and performed by a cast of pros who know what they’re doing. Lauren Patten, in particular, proves her show-stopping delivery in "Jagged Little Pill" was not just a fluke, in such numbers as “Barbie Doll” (“High heels, red rouge, Miss Scrooge”). And Carolee Carmello is the essence of Haversham in “Isn’t She Beautiful,” when she counsels the young Pip in song.


Estella Scrooge was developed in part at Rhinebeck Writers Retreat with a developmental production at Rubicon Theatre Company (Karyl Lynn Burns and James O’Neill, Artistic Directors), and features musical supervision by Brad Haak (“Mary Poppins”), director of photography and editor Tyler Milliron (Streaming Musicals’ “Pride and Prejudice”), production art design is by Zach Wilson (“Beauty and the Beast”), costume design is by Somie Pak (“Mélange”), hair and makeup design is by Dena Olivieri (“Forbidden Steps”) and props design is by Katherine White (Streaming Musicals’ “Marry Harry”), choreography by Natalie Lamonte (“Every Woman Biennial”) and casting by Tara Rubin Casting (“Dear Evan Hansen”).


The show is executive produced by Kevin Surace, Allan Herzog, Dawn Smalberg, Bev Ragavoy and Jeffrey Grove in addition to Tom Polum and Stacia Fernandez (Streaming Musicals).


“Streaming Musicals is pleased to be part of this groundbreaking new approach to recording an original musical,” says Mr. Polum. “This is an incredibly talented and organized team of individuals striving to tell a story that is not only a reflection of our times but a nod to great iconic figures of the past.”


Tickets are $29.99 for 72-hour viewing for each household, or $44.99 for a VIP Premium Theatre Experience, which includes unlimited viewings, a download of the CD, and exclusive behind-the-scenes footage. The production became available to stream Dec 15th and will continue through January 3rd at 7pm. To rent (stream) “Estella Scrooge,” click here: https://www.streamingmusicals.com/film/estella-scrooge/


Running time: about 140 minutes


Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report