What the Dickens! – Rubicon Theatre’s Musical version of Scrooge changes ages and genders

Rebecca Johnson as Estelle Scrooge Jeanne Tanner photo

Rebecca Johnson as Estelle Scrooge
Jeanne Tanner photo

“Christmas Carol” often introduces kids to the world of Charles Dickens. It’s a structured classic, not too long, and primes readers to jump into the longer works, their hundreds of characters with crazy names, love of description, and heartstring-tugging plots. And the play version remains a favorite from community to community. With Rubicon wanting to try something a little bit different this year, but still giving the people a “Carol” for the holidays, it presents “Little Miss Scrooge,” which opened this past Wednesday and runs until Dec. 23.

“Little Miss Scrooge” acts as half modern update and half mash-up with the rest of Dickens’ oeuvre, and the more novels you know, the more obscure references will tickle you.

Ebenezer Scrooge is now Estelle Scrooge and is the head of a Wall Street company called Bleak House, her name a nod to “Great Expectations.” Her lover is Philip ‘Pip’ Nickleby. Marley becomes Miss Marla, half “Carol” and half Miss Havisham. They’ve reversed genders, changed ages, and really gone to town with it.

Oh, and it’s a musical. Once again the team of Paul Gordon and John Caird provide the words and music to a classic, having already tackled “Daddy Long Legs” and “Jane Eyre” over their nearly 20 years of working together. And John Caird has brought on his son Sam, a Dickensian scholar, to help with the convoluted combinations of “Carol” and “Great Expectations.”

John Caird, by the way, has earned six Tony Award nominations over his three-decade career, and won two of them for directing Nicholas Nickleby (the RSC’s stunning 10-hour version) and a little musical called “Les Miserables.”

Mr. Gordon announced the writing on his blog in 2010, and tonight’s show is still in a concert version. (A full production may be produced in 2013).

“We started to think what would make a good Christmas story, and we kept coming back to ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ” says Mr. Gordon. “We didn’t want to do a typical production and we didn’t want to do just an update. Somehow I got the idea to do a mashup.”

“Daddy Longlegs” was workshopped in a similar fashion, and that experience explains why Mr. Gordon returned for “Little Miss Scrooge.”

“We discovered producers in the Rubicon who truly care about artists and developing the work, who don’t flinch when we need something to enhance the production, who aren’t afraid of taking the long road, and I think we’ve learned that if you stick with something and believe in it, that ultimately people respond to work that has integrity to it.”

Scrooge is played by Rebecca Johnson. Stuart Ambrose, also local, plays Nickleby. Sarah Litzsinger, known as the longest-running Belle in Broadway’s “Beauty and the Beast” plays several characters, including Becky Cratchit.

Mr. Gordon started as a pop songwriter, but moved to musicals when he first met John Caird in the early ’90s. He says it’s the opportunity to tell stories and extended narratives that makes the musical format better for him.

“I owe so much of my career to John and I wouldn’t be where I am without him,” Mr. Gordon says. “I feel like the luckiest guy to be the composer that he wants to keep working with. He could have chosen anybody. So I feel honored and humbled.”

‘Little Miss Scrooge’
When: Wed. 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Thurs. and Fri. 8 p.m.; Sat. 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.; runs through Dec. 23
Where: Rubicon Theatre, 1006 East Main Street, Ventura
Cost: $35-$49
Information: www.rubicontheatre.org or 667-2900

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