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A Christmas Carol (Menken and Ahrens): A Rough Guide For The M.D.

November 25, 2011

A Christmas Carol is a great show for family audiences and actors. The music is beautiful, the show is tightly constructed, there are many opportunities for many people to shine in small roles, and audiences go nuts for it. Keep in mind that the show was designed for a holiday audience in New York. It’ll work just as well for you.

Having said that, this is by no means an easy show to put on. The show is almost completely underscored, and none of the available recordings is an accurate representation of what you’ll get from MTI. The Original Cast Recording is heavily cut, and represents an earlier version of the show. The version you get from MTI is trimmed down and tightened from the original cast; keys have changed, lines have changed, dance breaks are different, there are many many changes. The movie is even more different. All the orchestrations are considerably different, character genders have changed and songs have been converted back into dialogue. Unfortunately, your director may see the movie and expect you to convert all the stuff you get from MTI into what appears in the movie. Don’t give in. A stage show is different from a film. Things work on the stage that don’t work in film, and vice versa. You’ll need a good pianist and a flexible artistic staff to do this show, because the underscore is important to every aspect of the show. You can’t block anything without knowing what is being played. Because people aren’t very familiar with this show, and because you can’t just send them home with the cast recording, you’ll need to budget a lot of rehearsal time up front to learn the music. Also, the artistic staff will not be able to rely on the cast recording or the film soundtrack as a guide to what happens in the show. As a conductor, you will be standing the entire time, and you will not be able to go on auto-pilot. Scrooge almost never leaves the stage, and there are many many entrances that can be missed by cast members who aren’t paying attention. If you have a lot of kids in the production, (and you need at least 6 or 8 to do the show at all) you will need a child wrangler.

BEFORE YOU START:

1) Read the original Dickens story:

Even if you are already really familiar with the story, it shouldn’t take you long to get through it, and there may be details you’re misremembering. The spirit of Dickens’ original story is different than many of the versions you may recall.

2) Listen to the Original Broadway Cast Recording

3) Watch the Kelsey Grammer Movie

4) Listen to the Movie Soundtrack

AS YOU’RE CASTING:

Most of the men are baritenors, heading up to the E or F, but not higher. The exception is Fezziwig, but his part can be easily altered to suit someone with a lower voice.

The womens roles vary. Mrs. Fezziwig has a high note you can’t really get around, but the rest of the women have parts that are very reasonably written for most females.

CAROLERS

Very basic 4 part block harmony. Cast as few as 4, as many as you like, but try and keep the parts balanced

 BEADLE:

An easy role to cast. Preferably a big guy. If you can’t find anyone for this part, it is cuttable, and here’s how (check with MTI before you do it) First, cut the line in measure 13 of Hear The Bells. Then cut the line in measure 105, in fact, cut 105 altogether, go directly from 104-106 and have Scrooge yell “Cratchit!” in 104 somewhere. Then his part in Money Machine Montage just needs to go to a random Creditor.

CHARITY MEN

3 men, 6 tops, please don’t cast an uneven number on each part. The lower part has a tritone jump, the top part sits a little high, and the middle part can be hard to hear in 3a, so cast some people who can sing close harmony well. Not as hard as the quartet in Music Man, but comparable.

SCROOGE

Strong Actor needed, can be a number of body types, but needs to play middle aged. Needs a strong Eb, and the ability to play bitterly angry, fearful, and boyishly delighted

MR. SMYTHE

As with all gender changes, please consult MTI before doing it, but there is a way to make Mr. Smythe a woman. Here’s how. Obviously all the references need to change to Mrs. Smythe instead of Mister. Then she needs to sing:

“Mister Scrooge, my husband’s died…” at measure 71 in Jolly Good Time

Then, (and this is the tricky part) because you don’t want to disturb the rhyme:

measure 83 becomes “Scrooge says pay” (only 3 notes) and Grace and Mrs. Smythe sing It’s Christmas Day, with It’s falling on the D# in 84 (up the octave) then Day taking up both notes in 86. Finally, Scrooge needs to change his line at 95 and 96 to If you don’t plan to pay, ma’am, the law will find a way ma’am.

GRACE SMYTHE

We were fortunate enough to have a really tremendous girl playing this part, but if you have to choose between someone who can sing it and someone who can act it, choose the singer. The first instance of the ‘Let The Stars In The Sky’ theme should be sung purely and beautifully; it is a major theme of the piece. Sings up to fourth line D.

BOB CRATCHIT

Cast this with your most sympathetic Cratchit looking guy who can carry a tune. The part isn’t vocally all that challenging, but Cratchit is generally cast a small nebbishy type, who, conversely, needs to be big enough to pick up Tiny Tim. He also needs to cower beside Scrooge and still play the family patriarch.

SANDWICHBOARD/GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT

You should cast a big, tall jolly guy. (read the Dickens description!) Sings a very vaudeville style song that goes up to an F. Should be jovial and move well.

LAMPLIGHTER/GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST

If you only watch the movie, you’ll think this part is for a girl, and you’ll be looking for a Jane Krakowski type. Don’t automatically do that. First of all, the parts are not in Jane’s key, you’ll need an actual soprano if you cast this with a girl. And transposing the parts is tricky, because it’s so intricately interwoven with the rest of the show. Whoever you choose, it should be somebody puckish, lighthearted, and whimsical. If you don’t go to the trouble of transposing it, the Lamplighter needs to hit a G above middle C. The original cast has Ken Jennings, who sounds exactly like he did 14 years earlier playing Tobias in the original cast of Sweeney Todd.

BLIND OLD HAG/GHOST OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE

Vocally, this part is similar to Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, a cockney accent and a strong belt are the main idea here. Has a fourth line D which should be at least mixed, if not belted. Should be able to move a little. Not a big part, but an important one.

TINY TIM

Needs to be small enough for people to carry, be able to carry a tune, limp convincingly, and be adorable.

MRS. CRATCHIT:

Needs to be able to sing to 4th space E, appear maternal, and match the rest of the Cratchit family.

FRED

Needs to be younger than Scrooge, but not a child. Should be sympathetic and kindly. Part goes up to an E.

MARLEY

Needs to be a good comic actor, but should be able to be genuinely scary too. Should be able to negotiate a G above the staff. The part goes up to an A, but can be spoken scarily at that moment instead.

MRS. MOPS

Scrooge’s Housekeeper, should be able to play older, and sass Scrooge a little bit.

MR. FEZZIWIG

A Jolly, good natured boss. Written for a very high tenor, but it can be played by anyone who has an F above middle C. Anything above that can either be put down the octave or delivered as a line

MRS. FEZZIWIG

Should be an imposing personality, with a legit but sassy sound, and preferably a very strong high Ab.

SCROOGE’S FATHER

Non-singing part. Needs to be able to convincingly deliver his stern warning, which drives Scrooge’s money-mania.

SCROOGE’S MOTHER

Sings briefly up to the C above middle C. I think this should be sung with a legit tone quality, even though it’s not that high.

SCROOGE AT 8

Needs to look like Scrooge at 8.  Doesn’t sing or have any lines. Can be combined with the part of Scrooge at 12.

SCROOGE AT 12

Needs to be able to deliver the letter writing monologue and sing up to a B above middle C.

YOUNG EBENEZER

Needs to hit an F# above middle C and look like he’s in love.

EMILY

Needs to hit at least a G above the staff, preferably a high Bb. Needs to look age-appropriate next to Young Scrooge. The prettier and sweeter the better, because we want the audience to feel that Scrooge has really missed the boat when she gives him back his ring.

YOUNG MARLEY

Should be chosen from your Young Scrooge pool. Needs to hit an F# above middle C and fake a heart attack.

JONATHON

Should be chosen from your pool of potential Tiny Tims, but needs more spunk. Should be able to carry a tune and kick Scrooge in the shins. Tiny Tim sings most of his lines, but Jonathon has to deliver a little spoken scene with scrooge at the end.

A FEW THINGS TO NOTE ABOUT THE MUSIC DIRECTOR’S MATERIALS

The Piano Conductor Score is very well engraved, but the parts are among the worst I’ve ever encountered. Please be prepared at your first playthrough to budget TWICE the normal amount of time to correct the parts. The show itself is very short, but your playthrough will be long, because the parts are very difficult to read. The trumpet book is particularly bad. In 4 Nothing to Do With Me, in measure 68, the repeat is not indicated. Compare with the score. Worse, there needs to be a staff dividing symbol between the staff beginning with measure 172 and the staff beginning with 178. The page is full of 2 staff systems, and at 172 there are two single-system staves full of rests that can easily be misread by the player. A similar situation happens at 166 in Fezziwig. All the parts are badly notated at the beginning of 15, and I’ll cover that when I get to that number. The trumpet part also does not include the repeat signs in the Exit Music at 11-18. One more thing: The musical is almost completely underscored, and for the most part, the piano vocal score is what we call integrated, meaning that all the lines appear in the score, you can just follow along and do the whole show without referring back to the script. There are, however, a couple of places where not all the dialogue made it into the vocal books, which may create problems when people are rehearsing from their books. I wish I’d written those places down. Just be ready when you’re running things for that to happen.

TROUBLE SPOTS AND ADVICE:

1. Overture

A truncated overture, very short and to the point. It establishes several main themes, a gothic mood, and the importance of bells to the show. I didn’t have a second keyboard, so I filled in the bells myself on a synth.

2. Hear The Bells

In the vocal selections, this tune has different words which don’t appear anywhere in the show. The safety in measure 2 is not in all the parts. If you’re removing the character of the Beadle, you should cut the line in measure 13 and after a moment, jump into measure 14.

3. Jolly Good Time

A big opening number ala the opening of Beauty and the Beast. It establishes location, social groupings, Scrooge’s character, Cratchit, the Smythes, the Charity Men, and the fact that all the diverse characters of the show love Christmas except Scrooge. Watch that the chorus knows the difference between the figure at measure 7, 20, 42, and 106, and the figure at 1, 32, 33, and 98-99. The contour of the melody is similar, but not identical. Learn it right from the get-go. The Charity Men sing the same thing over and over, but the lower part does jump a tritone, so it can be tricky. You can cut 11 and 12 if necessary. Make sure the ts in getting have a puff of air, not gedding as we say here in America. The businessmen at 24 and 28 can sing the melody in octaves if you like. The second part is hard to hear, especially at 28 and 29. I played a harpsichord patch at 40 and the bells at 56. There is an error in the reed 3 book in measures 66 and 67, where the notes are written at concert pitch even though the instrument is the Clarinet at that point. Should read B, A#, A G# there. 88 is hard to kick in somehow. I wound up training the cast to gasp after CHRISTmas IS a HUM bug *GASP* in a strict quarter note rhythm, then using the gasp as beat 1 of the lead in to 89. I think 89 should be a mezzo forte plus, despite the orchestra mp, then a marked crescendo at 93 makes a nice effect, especially if you really nail the Scrooge! at the end of the phrase. Train the chorus to listen to the orchestra and cut off at the downbeat of 111 without watching you. Chances are the director will have them filing off the stage and not looking at you. Diction is very important for this whole number. It’s a great time to start working the English accent in. Tall a in the word have, crisp ts, drop the r out of words like Lord, employer, Her, poor, more, sir, never, etc.

3a. Charity Men

This short number is a particular delight. Designate one of the men to lead the group with an inhaled upbeat, and cutoffs. It makes the three men work as a unit and keeps them from slavishly looking at you in the pit. It works pretty well to have the now at the end of m. 10 a bit longer. If they have trouble coming in at the end of 12, have the gentlemen consult one another about Scrooge’s ‘Nothing!’ and then come back in at the pickup to 13 with the new idea. The piano and crescendo in the last few measures is funny. Emphasize it.

4. Nothing To Do With Me

This sort of second opening number gives Scrooge a more emphatic vocal statement, and the three ghosts are introduced in a kind of Wizard Of Oz style foreshadowing. Cratchit and his family are further established, and the Smythe story plays out. Work to get your orchestra to play the accompaniment crisply and together. Menken scores rise or fall based on the clarity of the accompanimental legatos and staccatos. The articulations in 17-24 and at the end of 34 for example, must be uniform throughout your pit. I played a celeste patch at 25, and played the eighth note figure at 31 on celeste too. I added the harp part in at 53. 70a-77 is very difficult to coordinate with the pit, because the parts are very confusingly written. Each measure is in 1. Park on 70B until you hear the end of the line, then cue out to 71, and then immediately to 72, park there until you hear the second line, then cue out into 73, which is again an upbeat measure to 74. then do that exactly 9 times, then 75, which is an upbeat bar to 76, play 76 exactly 8 times, then 77, which is an upbeat to 78, which you beat in 2, listesso tempo from the previous. I filled in the keyboard 2 part from the conductor’s chair. The passage at 108 is confusingly written. I only taught the top part at 108, then had a smaller sub group of altos and children at 112, leaving out the middle line entirely. Again, you want to hardwire the cutoff at 122, so that they do it AUTOMATICALLY, not needing to look at you for it. I added a harp in at 141 from the conductor’s chair. Watch the ritardando at 146, and the a tempo at 147.  I played the harp cue with my left hand as I conducted at 179. 188 can be difficult to cue if you don’t get a good sigh line with Fred. The harp solo can be played by the conductor at 194, and adds a nice touch in the right hand at 236-244. There is a typo in the 2nd violin in measure 241. The last note should be E flat. Adding the funeral bell in at 278 and again at  282 with your left hand as you conduct is a nice touch. At 278 play an Ab, and at 282 a C#. Conduct 282 to the end in 2. Adding the harp part with your left hand adds a lot at 296. At the end of the number, train the chorus to cut off cleanly at the downbeat of 358, so that “Bah, humbug!” can be totally in the clear.

5. Scrooge’s House

This scene plays over a scene change, establishes the presence of Marley’s Ghost, and sets up the relationship with Mrs. Mops. I prerecorded our Marley saying his “Scrooge!”s and put a heavy echo effect on them, which I layered over the sounds of dragging chains and creaking wood. I didn’t bother with any of the other sound cues. I found it easier to conduct 19-37 in 4, but the parts are marked to be done in 2. This could create some confusion, so explain whatever you choose to do clearly to your orchestra. I used a pizzicato synth sound to augment the sounds of my real violins in 49, and I added the woodblock part from the percussion book into the drums book to get the ticking clock at 71. Measure 83 gave us a lot of trouble. When I did it in 2, the passagework got too difficult for my players; it was particularly muddy at 97-100. Slowing it down made a big difference for us, but made it harder to get to 119 in time with the dialogue. Please note that the transition to conducting in 2 at 83 and in 4 at 103 is not indicated in all the books, so you can’t assume they know what you’ll do. At 119, the strings keep repeating that figure at 119. Beat a few measures and then let them off on their own and turn your attention to cueing the 4 chords with the dialogue at 120-123. This is very badly written in the books. Take time to explain it to your group. 124 should be beaten in 4.

6. Link By Link

This is Marley’s big number, along the lines of “In The Dark Of The Night” from Anastasia. The first section of the piece (the verse) is not hard to understand, but the pit parts are hard to follow. Don’t take off too fast at 12. Save some room to accelerando later. Again, go for the Menken articulation at 17, 25, and 35. ATTENTION: That cut in 34-35 is real, not optional. Some books don’t have it! Other books have the parts and are badly crossed out, so that you can’t tell what it means. I don’t know why, but the section beginning at 65 sounds a lot like the Fruma Sarah scene from Fiddler. Make sure your Marley is aware of the BELLS in the accompaniment at 69, 73-74, and 78-79. It’s very important that those bells be heard, because they’re being referred to in the lyric. They’re not in the main staff of the accompaniment, though, so you may not initially notice them. The choral parts aren’t all that hard, but the cutoffs are important. Get them right from the beginning. I also worked to get a spooky sound from them, with a lot of vibrato and some dark tones. At 125-126, I put my sopranos on the top line, sung down the octave (from where the sopranos are normally notated there), the altos and tenors on the middle line, tenors singing as written in their normal notation, and altos ON THE SAME PITCHES AS THE TENORS, an octave lower than they would normally be written, and the basses on the bottom note in their normal male treble clef notation. If your cast isn’t wearing actual metal chains, which make a lot of noise, you should get your drummer or percussionist to use an actual chain. I bought about 4 feet of thick chain at a hardware store, and the drummer ‘played’ the part on the side of the stage. It’s written into the percussion book, but you can write it into the drum book as a kind of substitute for the cymbals in 127-128 and the passage beginning at 131. 138 and 139 work better with a kind of allargando. Don’t miss the poco Rit. At 147, and get through 148-151 as quick as you can manage. Clean K cutoff on beat 3 of 151 and a crisp staccato accent on beat 4 for the band. If you’re reading this and only have access to the printed vocal selections, you should know that this song appears in Eb minor in the show, not C minor, so the whole number is a minor third higher in the show than it appears in the vocal selections.

6A After Link By Link

This provides comic relief as Marley ushers the ghouls off with jokes, and gives a transition into the Ghost of Chistmas Past. Get Marley to wait until the second ‘Not Too Late’ to start his lines. Note the chime in measure 16. I added it on my synth. If yo don’t have a percussionist, add the tick tocks in wood blocks from 49-53 into the drum book. Also very important that the clock strike 1 at 53. If you don’t have the keyboard 2, add it from the conductor’s chair. IMPORTANT: 55-63 and 66-67 DON’T EXIST in some of the parts. That is not an optional cut. As you rehearse this, at first it will seem like you have much too much music here, and depending on your staging, you may indeed have to cut some of it. But the music is there to cover a scene change, and the costume and makeup changes of a lot of people from being ghouls to being in the Fezziwig scene, so make what you can of it before you start cutting it down.

7. The Lights of Long Ago

This is the introduction of Ghost of Christmas Past. I added my synth pizz to the real pizz of my strings in measure 8, and I added my harp patch to the right hand at 18-21 and 26-33. If you only have access to the vocal selections, you should know that this song is a half step higher in the show. The first note is Eb.It’s also really truncated from the show version.

7A Old Bailey

There is a problem in the trumpet book for this one, but I can’t remember what it is. I built in a pause after measure 3, and let the Judge hit his gavel whenever he hit his mark after the previous number. I play the celeste part at 19.

7B. The Lights Of Long Ago Part 2

I added the solo Abs with a harp patch up top while conducting with my other hand, and added a pizzicato in at 8. ATTENTION: 12-15 is NOT an optional cut as indicated in the book. Some of the parts DO NOT have this music. Don’t count on it being there.

7C. The Factory/A Place Called Home Part 1

This song sets up young Scrooge’s formative years at the factory, includes almost the entire part of Scrooge’s sister Fan, and introduces There’s A Place Called Home, which will occur as a motif through the rest of the show. IMPORTANT! : These cuts are not optional either, even though they claim to be. Even more confusingly, the parts are marked with different cuts in different books. They work, they really do, but if you say cut 3-4 and 7-11, that’s not going to line up with the cuts that exist in the boos themselves as far as measure numbers go. Adding the harp in with the left hand as you conduct at 35 makes for a really warm and beautiful sound. The words in this section are hard to keep straight. Work to memorize them correctly from the get-go. IMPORTANT: 72D doesn’t exist in the parts. I used 72 C as a safety bar, but it didn’t work well. Perhaps you can come up with a better solution.

8. Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball

The storytelling of this number is important, because the varying social classes are shown here to be in community at Christmas. This is demonstrated importantly in the back and forth between 36 and 43, but if it’s blocked without those groups being distinct from one another at first, the effect is lost. The violin solo at the beginning does not have the repeat written in clearly. Be sure the player knows what to do there, as indicated in your score. Fezziwig’s part can be sung down the octave, and the harmony can be eliminated in his part, should your actor be unable to negotiate it. I found the drum part unclear at the eighth note repetitions, so in measure 26-27, 36-37, 38-39, 42-43, 162-163, 164-165, 250-251, 252-253, 300-301, 302-303,304-305, and 329-332 I added the rhythm in the snare, which drastically improved our ensemble. Watch the chorus’s closing consonants at 60-63 in particular. I found the figure at 135 took on a great rustic quality when I played it from the conductor’s chair on a harp patch. As soon as the pit had it figured out, I played whenever that 6/8 rhythm came along. At measure 210, the chorus does NOT sing MISTER. Don’t be fooled by that duple in 110. It’s the normal rhythm for the tune, not a triplet feel. Those measures essentially drop into 2 at 10. There are several clips on youtube which sing that passage as a triplet.  Note the extra tat tats in 251, and the lack of a HO! in 253. If you only have access to the vocal selections, you should know that this song appears in the show in B major, not in C, and that Fezziwig’s written first note is a HIGH B. (it can be sung down the octave)

9. A Place Called Home

This number is the big romantic payoff of the show, and is really moving if done well. If you only have access to the vocal selections, you should know that this song appears in D in the show, a whole step higher than it does here. A harp patch in your left hand as you conduct with the right makes for a lovely warm sound in this piece. Add the sleigh bells into the drum part if you’re not using a percussionist. Measure 53 should read BE, not SEE. Likewise in mm.69. I’m going to offer two alternate harmonies for 75 to the end. If your Emily has the high Bb, have her sing it, have Young Scrooge sing the G, and have old Scrooge sing first a C for the WAYS of always, then an E flat for HOME, a D for with, and a C for ME. If your Emily is unable to hit that high Bb to your satisfaction, have her sing the G on HOME, the F on WITH, and the F for ME. Have Young Scrooge sing the F for WAYS, the Eb for HOME, a D for WITH, and a C for ME, and have Older Scrooge sing the C for WAYS, a Bb for HOME, an A for WITH, and an A for ME.

10. Money Machine Montage

This number shows the rise and avarice of Scrooge and Marley, the breakdown of their other relationships, including the one with Fezziwig, and the dissolution of his relationship with Emily. Fairly straightforward, at least at the beginning. Bring out the Fezziwig countermelody at 52. If Fezziwig is not a strong singer, he can speak 57, and even 56 if necessary. I took a slight retard at 65. The rhythm at 74 is counterintuitive. Make sure Emily gets it. We found the heart attack music far too long, so we cut measure 87, measures 91-94, and 101-108. Be involved in the conversation when they block this number. Marley’s Ghost’s appearance, the heart attack, and Scrooge’s reaction are all clearly marked in the music. Give a strong Rallantando in 110, and make 111 a broad choral gesture. I took the accel. at 115 to a very fast clip by 126; it’s actually quite thrilling. I cut 139-142 in the interest of avoiding boredom. From 143-150, if you don’t have a percussionist, add the tick tocks on woodblocks into the drum book.

IF YOU WANT AN ACT BREAK

It goes here. Sing the number to 160 as written. At 160, give your pit a low B5 chord tremolando with a crescendo, and a strong button on the downbeat of 161. Lights out.

Then start your ACT II at 151 right where you left off, and play as written, segueing into 11.

11. Abundance and Charity

This is a fairly straightforward tap number, along the lines of “One Last Hope” from Hercules. It sets up the Ghost of Christmas Present and represents the only true show-biz number in the musical. Practice conducting the time change from 47 into 48. I played the right hand piano part at 78 to help my pianist out, and he played the stride ‘left hand’ part. (by the way, that section starting at 78 is the Hear The Bells carol tune sped up) If you have a large cast, the Ahs at 129 are easy. If you’ve basically only got your tap line up there, have them sing the melody instead. You won’t miss the harmony at all. Let the tappers set the tempo in 139. They know how fast they want to do it. Drill the passage at 143 with your reeds, especially the ‘laughs’ at 149. Resist the temptation to slow down at 179. I played a pizzicato patch at the softshoe at 199, and it worked well. I also added some brushes in the spaces imitating sandpaper blocks. The three part harmony at 251 isn’t hard, but it is if you’re winded, an it’s hard to keep the band under it if the girls aren’t well miked. There are also parts in the drum book that play over the tap breaks, which is very foolish. Go through the book and clean out the tap breaks at 275-276 and 239-142. In measure 201 there is a lyric written: “I Need a Diet Coke Right Now” which is meant as a way to remember the tap rhythm. There are videos on youtube of people actually speaking that lyric in the show. No, no, no, people. It says right in the score ‘dance lyric only’.  If you need a scene change, go back to 278 and play to the end. If you only have access to the vocal selections, you should know that the entire song is very different in the show. The verse has completely changed, the song is in different keys, etc.

12 Christmas Together

If Link By Link has a Fruma Sarah section, then this number is the sort of ‘Sabbath Prayer’ of the show, where we see all the families enjoying their meals together at the holidays. The orchestra parts are strangely notated here, some parts don’t include the blank measures for the Tiny Tim Vocal. Tell your drummer not to let his part get too Jazz-waltzy. That’s really not the groove here, and the eighths are not swung. In the original production, there were a lot of big moving set elements here, and if you don’t have those things, you can make the following cuts: cut 184-199, 290-309, 346-363, and 368-379. The cut at 408-411 is not optional. It isn’t in the parts. If you make those cuts, some of the transitions are tricky. Be sure your group has rehearsed well the key changes. Make your drunks really scoop and slur, and make your salvation army folks prissy and vibratoy like a church choir. It makes for a funny contrast. Try to really get the woodwinds at 242 to give you a really shallow, out of tune sloppy sound for those drunks. Keep an eye on the tempo as you come into measure 380. It sounds silly when it goes too fast. If you don’t have a percussionist, add the sleigh bells from 380-393 as they appear in the percussion book. Go over the words carefully with your group from day one for the big choral finish. The words are family oriented here, later they’re addressed to the audience. But if you don’t clear it up at the beginning, you’ll have people singing the wrong thing in both spots. At 475 the right hand of the piano vocal score really needs a courtesy D natural (it’s written into the parts) This number has a built in fade out, split the groups at 504 roughly evenly. If you have access only to the vocal selections, you should know that Tiny Tim’s tune at the beginning is in Eb, not G. The real song changes key many times, the vocal selections are more truncated and self contained.

13. Will Tiny Tim Live?

If you find yourself getting to Scrooge’s entrance early as I did, come to a stop, and restart at measure 1 with him singing. If you didn’t hire a percussionist, add the tick-tocks from the percussion book into measure 70 of the drum book.

14. Dancing on Your Grave

I cut groups 1, 2, and 3. Explaining that I had cut them took about 15 minutes for some reason. If you have enough guys, have only guys at 10. Otherwise do it as written. I didn’t have access to a sampling keyboard, so I went to Lowes and bought a bag of gravel, a plastic planting box, and a deep trowel, which I dug and tossed back in at 18. It sounded great. Get that crescendo at 34, and the subito piano at 38 for a great effect. The violin/horn line there is also really neat. Watch the accents at 60, and the whisper at 74. They’re very evocative! Measure 78 is cuttable. There’s a really cool string shiver effect at 88 that you should bring out. 94 is tricky. Have only men at 94. Have the altos join in at 96 in the male range, and have the sopranos join at beat 3 of 96. I put the sopranos and tenors on the A (not super high, mind you; in the male range in unison) I put the altos on the middle note, again on the F above middle C, and I put the basses on the D. Make sure your group says DAHncing in the English manner, and pay attention to the words in the verses. They’re similar enough to get them mixed up.

15. Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Today.

This is the first fake out ending, where we see Scrooge transformed. The tune comes from what the Ghosts sang in the opening. (themes are transformed like this all over the show, listen for them) It’s also kind of like ‘there must be more than this provincial life’ but we won’t go there. All the parts have the old, cut measure 5 in them, most of them are very vaguely marked, and you will have trouble explaining how to get through the first  6 measures to them. The score makes sense. Go around individually and explain how it works to your players. The violins have a great and evocative D, which sounds best as a downbow. I had 2 violins. One played with alternating up and downbows to get the continuity, and the other played every note with a strong downstroke, to get the meaty attack. Sounded great. The circle of fifths progression at 32 is lovely, very Michel LeGrand. Have your strings really play out Hollywood style there. I played the harp with my left at 46 and cued in the kids with my right at 48. Here is one of the many spots in the show where you can have kids sing with a beautiful children’s choral tone. Our Scrooge noted that it seemed better to slightly alter his rhythm at 56, and it made for a neat effect; just a little backphrasing on his part brought his line out a little, and kept it from seeming like he was just unable to blend. I cut 74-92, and took the fermata out of 95. Then I played all 8 bells on the synth. Tell Jonathon not to come in early, otherwise Scrooge is waking up at 3 in the morning or whatever. If you have access only to the vocal selections, you should know that the show key is D minor, not G minor, so the first note is an A, a 4th lower than the D in the V.S.

16. Final Scene Part 1

This number commences the resolution ot the show and ties up all the loose ends. I played in the lower system at 14. I also didn’t bother repeating back, because the scene is’t that much longer than the music, and what’s left of it plays well in the clear.

16A Final Scene Part 2

I conducted this in a fast 4. It took a couple of tries before the pit could really lock in on it. You can cut 106-117 if you like.

16B Final Scene Part 3

Very straightforward. The knocks in measure 17 are in the rhythm of the melody and ar cued in the orchestra. Be involved in the blocking conversation at 58 so that Cratchit can faint on the musical cue. The repeat at 52 is crossed out in the books. Put it back in as a safety. Run the vamp at 80 a few times so that the players know clearly when you’ve exited it. The marking in the score at 80 is the opposite of the way I like to see it. The old Quarter is the new eighth, not the other way around. Be warned that snow machines are very loud. If you didn’t hire a percussionist, add the sleigh bells to measures 100-105. Drill a clear cutoff at 164 into your group’s heads and get your Tiny Tim to really sell that last line.

17 God Bless Us Everyone (Bows Version)

This show has the right idea. Don’t give a million individual bows and wear your audience out. Company bows, if necessary in 3-4 groups during measures 3-8, Scrooge bow at 9 as written, and then sing pretty and go home. Measures 13 and 14 are not marked as repeats in all books. Some books have a 4 measure rest written there. Please clarify for them what you intend to do. The choral parts are quite lovely. This is the first thing I taught in the show and the last thing I did every day during the warm-ups. Ignore the instruction for the sopranos at 44, and have all the sopranos sing the high part.

18. Exit Music

The section from 11-18 is not marked as a repeat in most of the orchestra books. This bows seems thrown together to me, but it does have some nice solo work, especially the trmpet solo at 99.

INSTRUMENTS YOU SHOULD TRY AND GET FOR YOUR PIT:

It is essential to have

PIANO

BASS

DRUMS

There is a tap number in the show. You can’t do tap numbers without a rhythm section.

If you have more money, hire:

VIOLIN 1 (exposed solo at top of Fezziwig)

REED 1 (lots of flute parts)

TRUMPET 1 (if you only have the one trumpet, as I did, many of the very high parts can go down the octave without destroying the effect. High trumpet parts unsupported by other brass sound ridiculous)

If you have more money than that, hire:

VIOLIN 2

REED 2

REED 3

After that, I’d add, in this order:

REED 4

TRUMPET 2

TROMBONE 1

HORN

CELLO

KEYBOARD 2

HARP

VIOLIN 3

REED 5

PERCUSSION

VIOLA

But keep in mind: These orchestrations were written with a sunken pit and lots of sound reinforcement in mind. If you fill every book in this orchestration and your mics go in and out, your singers will not be heard; you can’t keep this orchestra quiet enough to stay under unamplified voices. The tricky thing about this show in that respect is that the parts are very integrated with one another. So for example, having just one trumpet requires you to drop some things down the octave, because they’re written with three trumpets, a horn, and some trombones in mind. The brass pyramids don’t work without the complete brass section. There are a lot of call-and-response sections in the winds that don’t happen without the books being filled. So you have to keep an ear out for what’s happening and work hard to balance the pieces you do use.

MY PROGRAM NOTES FROM OUR PRODUCTION:

There have been many musical versions of the classic Dickens story A Christmas Carol. The 1970 film had music by Leslie Bricusse, in 1979, Comin’ Uptown had a black cast, in 1985 a version written by Sheldon Harnick and Michel Legrand played in Symphony Space, in 1988, Patrick Stewart did it as a one-man show, and in 1992, the Muppet version had music by Paul Williams! The version we present tonight was written for Madison Square Garden, where it premiered in 1994 and ran every Christmas for 10 years. It’s written by two of the best craftsmen in the business. In the old days, you knew Rodgers and Hammerstein’s names; the average person knew Lerner and Loewe wrote My Fair Lady. Very few writers have that kind of name recognition today. You probably don’t know Alan Menken’s name, but you have almost certainly memorized some of his music; he wrote Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pocohantas, Hercules, Enchanted, and Tangled. His musical Sister Act is on Broadway now, and his Newsies is on its way to Broadway next year. Lyricist Lynn Ahrens is best known for her work with Stephen Flaherty, with whom she wrote Once On This Island, Seussical, and Ragtime, to name only 3. She also wrote music and lyrics for Schoolhouse Rock. These are perhaps the most experienced writers working in the commercial theatre, and they wrote wonderfully evocative and moving material that moves quickly and tells the story colorfully and beautifully. Listen to how the Christmas carol that opens the show comes back again and again, from the charity men’s ditty to the middle section of the Ghost of Christmas Present’s jaunty tune to the Anderson family singing in Christmas Together. The tune Tiny Tim sings at the beginning of the show slows down and expands to become the beautiful ballad, There’s A Place Called Home, which occurs as a countermelody in the orchestra later whenever Scrooge thinks of his happier times. The first tune you hear from each of the ghosts as they meet Scrooge on the street in the first scene is echoed in the entrance of the Ghost of Christmas past, and extended to become Scrooge’s moment of self-discovery at the end. Lynn Ahrens lyrics are beautiful in their simplicity; she sets up lyrical ideas early in the show which pay off with a different meaning later on. Beauty, simplicity, and showmanship in the service of a timeless story about how love of your fellow man can overcome the love of money. What a timely way to start this year’s holiday season!

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5 comments

  1. What a beautiful and thought out essay on a beautiful show.As always a pleasure to work together as a team!


  2. What a wealth of info! Spot on.


  3. I’ve been MD’ing this show in London over Christmas and just wanted to thank you for your notes. Really appreciated all the information,


  4. Where can I find a vocal selection book? It seems to out of print!


  5. Thank you for the great detail. We just did a run of this show with a small pit (piano, bass, drums, Reed 1, Trumpet 1, Trombone 1). I played Reed 1. I’ve done about 80 shows and the book was the worst one I’ve ever seen. It was a photocopy of a photocopy, had lots or scribbled out or missing measures and lots of markings written in by hand that were now photocopied. Plus it was hand written and sloppy. Our first rehearsal was supposed to be 2 1/2 hours. It went over 4 hours because all the books were so terrible. There are different measures cut in every book! There is NO excuse in this age of modern computer generated scores to have terrible books like this.

    The book was very challenging because we took several songs above tempo, plus the book was difficult to read, plus we never stopped playing so you could not reset easily. Also you have to count very carefully through the whole show, it was easy to get lost and difficult to get back on track because of the thin instrumentation.

    That said I really liked playing the book because of the many solos and the decent songs. The show was very short… we were done in under 2 hours including a 15 minute intermission.



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