When it comes to musicals, songs are utilized to dramatize moments of high emotion – the characters are so emotional they have to sing about it. Thus, when adapting a pre-existing story to musical form, the creators look at the story for the emotional high points and parts that lend themselves to a musical number (think Legally Blonde‘s “Bend and Snap”) before creating the songs. In this way the addition of music does not feel superfluous, but feels like an expansion of the existing plot and characters.
With Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, we have a unique opportunity to look at multiple adaptations of the same, well-known story. There have been a number of musical versions, but I will be concentrating on my two favorites: The Muppet Christmas Carol and Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol.
Like many people in my generation, I am quite fond of The Muppet Christmas Carol. The addition of the Muppets, though hilarious, does not intrude much on this retelling of the plot, and the songs are quite splendid.
Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, on the other hand, was a classic from the previous generation, introduced to me by my parents. It’s actually considered the first animated Christmas special, beating out A Charlie Brown Christmas by three years, so that’s a pretty big deal. Other than the framing device of having Mister Magoo acting in the show on Broadway, this is a pretty straightforward retelling, actually.
However, since these were both comedic adaptations with characters from other media, I’m also bringing in the musical film Scrooge starring Albert Finney and featuring Alec Guinness (before he was Obi-Wan) which was a more straightforward adaptation, for comparison. I don’t know this version as well, but I have listened to the songs, so I hope you’ll bear with me on this.