‘Estella Scrooge’ Reviewed: A New Musical Take On Charles Dickens’ Classics

by Rachel Bellwoar

There are a lot of things to be thankful for this year but, in terms of entertainment, there’s no show I’m more thankful for than Stars in the House. Almost every day since March 16th, SiriusXM radio host, Seth Rudetsky, and his husband, James Wesley, have done livestreams to raise money for The Actor’s Fund (which is for anyone in the entertainment business, not just actors). Of course, when they promised to do the show, they didn’t realize how long Broadway would be shut down but having something to look forward to everyday has been precious, and it’s because of Stars in the House that I discovered Estella Scrooge: A Christmas Carol with a Twist.

Danny Burstein and Betsy Wolfe (Photo Credit: Tyler Milliron)

Estella Scrooge was filmed entirely during Covid, which is something that’s become less unusual lately, but in this case all of the actors were filmed separately using green screens and made to look like they were in the same room together.

Sounds wonky, right? Or like maybe it could be done, but should it?  And maybe this approach wouldn’t work for every show, but because Estella Scrooge deals with magic and Christmas, and the virtual backgrounds are allowed to be fantastic, it’s a lot easier to buy into than you’d expect (and, if I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought they were in the same room). Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit is another play that could do well in this format, but director, John Caird, and his team really thought everything through, and you can learn more about the behind-the-scenes process here.

Carolee Carmello (Photo Credit: Tyler Milliron)

Like Scrooge, Estella is visited by three spirits, but Estella Scrooge is more than a gender swapped version of A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge was miserable and scowl-y. Betsy Wolfe’s Estella isn’t really like that (she even remembers people’s names and accepts that ghosts are real without much coaxing), but she is money-obsessed and when Bleak House Capital gets ahold of the mortgage for Harthouse Hotel, Estella decides to spend Christmas Eve trying to foreclose it. When the mortgage holder turns out to be her childhood love interest, “Pip” Nickleby (Clifton Duncan), however, Estella has to decide whether she wants to go through with the deal after all.

Fans of Charles Dickens may have already noticed, but there are a lot of references to Dickens in this musical: some of the song lyrics and titles are from Dickens’ books. Character names are amalgamations, like “Pip” Nickleby, which is a combination of Pip from Great Expectations (who was in love with an Estella) and Nicholas Nickleby. Most of the time the film leaves it up to viewers to notice, but some of the subtlety is lost with Lauren Patten’s Dawkins (a reference to Oliver Twist’s Dodger).

Clifton Duncan and Betsy Wolfe (Photo Credit: Tyler Milliron)

The musical theater references are great, as well, like Pip and Essy disagreeing over whether they were sixteen or seventeen (Sound of Music), or the song title, “Wall Street Baby Superstar” (Jesus Christ Superstar). Paul Gordon wrote the music and lyrics, and the way he crafts the songs, so Essy and Pip take opposite stances, helps create doubt over whether they’ll reconcile. Somie Pak‘s costumes pop in every scene (especially Essy’s red dress) and, for a filmed musical, Estella Scrooge still manages a Broadway experience in terms of runtime (2 hours and 19 minutes) and a short intermission

While no one is shown wearing a mask (as a lot of network shows have been doing during the pandemic), songs like “It’s Ok With Me” couldn’t feel more relevant to this moment, as Smike (Em Grosland) sings about not needing presents this year. While the film didn’t need a mysterious parentage storyline, Estella Scrooge is everything you could want from a holiday musical, and more, and is available to stream on Streaming Musicals.

Tickets for Estella Scrooge can be purchased here, and, as a special treat for Comicon readers, you can get $5 off your rental or purchase if you use the promo code: ESCOM5OFF

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