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BWW Album Review: ESTELLA SCROOGE Embraces Those Christmas Cliches

Plenty of great moments, but never gels as a whole

BWW Album Review: ESTELLA SCROOGE Embraces Those Christmas Cliches

The best musicals have a sort of alchemy to them, bringing together all their individual elements to create something that's truly magical. Estella Scrooge, the new holiday show produced for Streaming Musicals, has several strong elements: a talented cast giving it their all, catchy music, and witty lyrics. Despite all these individual high points, though, an inconsistent tone and too many wink-wink references prevent the album from becoming more than the sum of its parts.

The premise of the story is the stuff that dozens of made-for-TV Christmas movies are made of. Estella Scrooge (Betsy Wolfe), an adopted descendant of Ebenezer Scrooge, is a high-powered businesswoman who travels to her small hometown at the holidays, but not for sentimental reasons - she's there to foreclose on the hotel owned by her kindhearted ex, Pip Nickleby (Clifton Duncan). If you just groaned in recognition of that love interest's Dickens-inspired name, you've hit on one of the album's biggest weaknesses: its insistence on packing the script with a never-ending slew of Dickens references, both in names and in plot. It's charming at first, but by the sixth or seventh time you recognize a name, quote, or plotline from another Dickens novel, it gets distracting.

That's part of the bigger problem with the otherwise charming score - it never seems to quite know what it wants to be. Early on, with songs like "Bleak House" and Wolfe's delightfully self-centered paean to greed, "Trickle Down," it seems like the score wants to reflect a Dickensian critique of social and economic inequality.

The saccharine quickly takes over, though, with a slew of sweet, cliché ballads extolling the virtues of love and hope. There's nothing wrong with that, to be sure, and the cast does an exceptional job of pouring their heart out; Duncan in particular has the kind of lovely voice that was made for heartfelt ballads. But these songs aren't saying anything new or interesting or tweaking any cliches; they're the same things repeated in hundreds of Christmas movies, and it doesn't help that far too many of them contain all-too-obvious mix-and-match Dickens quotes.

Estella Scrooge is at its best when it lets its cast members shine in the kinds of scene-stealing supporting characters that Dickens excelled at sketching out. It's a great showcase for some of Broadway's best character actors. Lauren Patten brings her Jagged Little Pill energy to "Barbie Doll," a fury-filled number that somehow manages to embody every stereotype of the "soulless, polished businesswoman" trope and yet be entertaining. Danny Burstein also channels his most recent role, with a touch of Moulin Rouge's impresario Zidler in his showcase "It's a Beautiful Night." Carolee Carmello also gets a moment in the spotlight as a tweaked version of Miss Havisham (we told you it was a Dickens mashup of epic proportions).

As for Wolfe, she truly is one of Broadway's most underappreciated leading ladies right now. She effortlessly slides between Estella's harsher, colder moments and her slow revelation of hidden depths and warmth, and she's perfectly paired with castmates like Duncan. There are so many things to love about Estella Scrooge, but it's a shame that it never quite seems to figure out how to become more than the sum of its overstuffed Dickens references and Christmas cliches.

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From This Author Amanda Prahl