Musical Versions of A Christmas Carol: An Extended Analysis

You probably noticed that we've been watching a lot of versions of A Christmas Carol. As we went, I started noticing how many musical versions there are. As a lifelong musical theater fan, I'm a sucker for a good musical.

Because these are all adaptations of the same story, many use songs in similar places for similar purposes. I find it interesting how these songs can make very different choices, so let's take a few minutes today to explore that together. 

I don't remember enough music theory to get too bogged down in whether these songs are necessarily "good" by any specific musical metrics. I'm interested in only a few things: 

  1. Does the song support the story, expand the character(s), or enhance the tone?
  2. Is it enjoyable to listen to: lyrics understandable and not annoying, tune catchy, performed well? 
  3. How do the songs which fulfill the same purpose in the narrative compare across adaptations?

Here are the versions of A Christmas Carol I'll be visiting/revisiting today and the shorthand I'll be using for each:

  • 1956 The Stingiest Man in Town (Stingy56), a musical performed live for television. This was thought lost until relatively recently, and no color version has been found. 
  • 1962 Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol (Magoo), an animated TV special that was very important historically but is fairly dated to look back on now.
  • 1970 Scrooge (Scrooge70), notable for being a big-budget movie musical irreparably undermined (in my opinion) by a completely miscast lead actor.
  • 1978 The Stingiest Man in Town (Stingy78), an animated remake of the 1956 special with similar, but not identical, songs. I'll probably only mention this one when it is significantly different from its predecessor.
  • 1992 The Muppet Christmas Carol (Muppets), notable for keeping a lot of Dicken's gorgeous descriptions by casting The Great Gonzo as "Dickens" and letting him narrate much of the movie.
  • 2004 A Christmas Carol: The Musical (Musical04), a TV movie adapted from a stage musical, this one is almost sung through. 
  • 2013 A Christmas Carol: The Concert (Concert13), a stage performance written for symphony, choir, and just a few actors. Sort of a cross between a sung-through version and just reading Dickens' text directly.

Important note: Sorry, no new (2022) musical versions will be addressed today.

Breakdown of All Musical Numbers

Stave One


Many adaptations of A Christmas Carol open with a song that is meant to set the tone and place us in the setting. 

The Muppets version opens with a traditional instrumental overture that samples from the score. Nice, especially once you're familiar with the songs, but nothing exceptional. 

Stingy56 sets a lovely tone with a brief refrain in an old-fashioned, somewhat somber choral style ("Sing a Christmas Carol") that leads into some sung narration that begins the story. (It's a bit lighter and more frivolous feeling in the animated remake.) This is soon followed by "An Old-Fashioned Christmas," which serves to place us in a fantastical musical space, rather than historical London. (The first carol tune reprises a few times later with the singers serving as narrators to smooth over transitions in the live performance.) 

Magoo, meanwhile, makes the bizarre choice to have an extended musical sequence about the frame set-up (that Mr. Magoo is playing Scrooge in a theatrical production), with "It's Great to Be Back on Broadway." I mean, it's a bit repetitive, but it would be fine for a movie about theater. However, this frame story never comes up again after the initial sequence, and the song does nothing to prepare you to watch A Christmas Carol. 

Scrooge70 starts strong with "A Christmas Carol." Running over the opening credits, it's sung by a full chorus and in style evokes an old-fashioned carol or a madrigal. We are kindly choosing to forgive the choice to repeat the lyric "sing a Christmas carol" ad nauseum.

Musical04 also starts with a brief carol, although I think there's something a bit off with the voice balance, as it sounds rather shrill. This leads into an instrumental over the credits, which is followed by the first full song, "Jolly Good Time." This is a unique scene among adaptations, set in the London Exchange, where all the bankers and shoppers and janitors sing about how excited they are to be closing up shop/getting ready for Christmas, interspersed with dialogue from Scrooge and others. It's a good burst of momentum and a fun dance number right at the start. 

Concert13 takes a very different road than all the others. The first song, sung by the chorus, is purely about how Marley is dead and it is very cold. All the others are leaning into the holidays, while this one lets you know from the start that it's leaning into the horror. 

Meet Scrooge:

The next major song usually introduces the character of Scrooge. Sometimes this comes before his scenes with Fred and the charity collectors and Cratchit, sometimes after, sometimes the music and the scenes are interwoven or the song replaces the dialogue. One interesting thing about looking at these songs as a group is that some are sung about Scrooge from others' perspective, and some are him singing about himself.

The Muppets version makes "Scrooge" their first real song. It's a song about Scrooge and comes before the scenes in the counting house. The passersby in the streets sing about Scrooge's sour attitude and meanness. It's funny, with plenty of Muppet silliness and puns, and tells us clearly what we need to know about Scrooge and how he's seen. 

Concert13 has (again) a very different take on the same moment. The choir sings "Scrooge's Evil Eye" about Scrooge's temperament over extremely dramatic, dark music. This is followed by "You Can Keep Your Christmas." This replaces the conversation between Scrooge and Fred (and with the charity collectors) with a song so strongly split in two it's almost two different songs. Scrooge's section is extremely dramatic music much in the style of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra while Fred's is warm and festive. The rock opera tone of Scrooge's music and singing is a bit overdramatic for me, given the actual text and subject of the songs. 

Stingy56 and 78 let Scrooge sing first with "Humbug" - this replaces his conversation with Fred with a humorous patter song. It's cute, although I feel sympathy for the actors in '56 occasionally stumbling over bits of patter trying to perform live at speed on camera. The audience gets the public's opinion afterwards with the crowds outside expressing hyperbolic disbelief about "The Stingiest Man in Town," another lighthearted number. 

Both Scrooge70 and Musical04 have Scrooge actually sing about his feelings towards things other than Christmas on his way home from work. In 1970, it's "I Hate People," which is an attempt at a song full of patter and wordplay, although it's only sometimes successful. In 2004, Scrooge says that the needs of others have "Nothing to Do With Me." This song incorporates conversation with Crachit and Fred and continues on into Scrooge's disdain for everyone else. It's quick and clear and very, very musical theater in tone. Both these songs include Scrooge feeling beset by the idea that everyone wants something from him, but the lyrics to the first are much more bitter and hateful, as you may suspect from the title. 

Mr. Magoo's contribution is called "Ringle, Ringle" and it emphasizes Scrooge's greed and love for gold, while being such a cheery song that greed doesn't seem such like a bad thing. 

These are mostly all decent songs; some emphasize hatred for Christmas as the key element, some greed, some just general antisocial behavior. The Muppets is the only case where Scrooge hasn't sung for himself yet.

There is another song at this point in Scrooge70 called "Father Christmas" in which a bunch of street kids make fun of Scrooge. It slows down the movie's momentum and adds very little. 

Meet Cratchit: 

A few adaptions sneak a song in here giving Bob Cratchit (and often Tiny Tim) a bit more characterization. This can be a nice choice for another lighthearted moment before the ghosts arrive and/or starting to build up the Cratchit family's story earlier. 

Scrooge70 actually places "Christmas Children" before the Scrooge song. It's a cheerful number, but I couldn't help noticing it's just a song about all the things to have/buy/eat at Christmas. 

Contrast that with "You Mean More to Me" from Musical04. Bob and Tim are shopping in both songs, but this one is about how Tim is more important than any material wealth. (Around this time, the movie also introduces its core emotional motif: "God Bless Us, Everyone," a call for compassion, love, and kindness. It's first sung NOT by Tim but by a new character: a little girl who has just lost her mother and whose father is in debt to Scrooge.)

The Muppets needed some more time with Kermit, so it sneaks in "One More Sleep 'Til Christmas," which is a warm number that elaborates on Bob's trip home and his delight in all the people he meets. This also brings in a bit of the Christmas cheer that other versions have in their opening carols. 

Marley's Ghost:

Marley sings a song in every version except Mr. Magoo, and they are all fantastic. This might be the only point in the story in which I think every version does a truly great job.

The briefest one is in Scrooge70, just a few eerie couplets, but it's a nice touch.

The Muppets offer a number ("Marley and Marley") in which the Marley brothers (played by Statler and Waldorf) more or less perform a comedy routine about their poor behavior in life and explain Scrooge's fate. 

All the other songs focus more heavily on Marley's most significant character feature: his chains.

Musical04 offers another comedic take with "Link by Link." Played in the movie by Jason Alexander, this vaudeville-esque tune builds and builds into a full production number with tons of dancing ghosts, puns about ghosts, etc. It's got just enough macabre edge and the song is very catchy.

Stingy56 and its remake both cast powerful singers as Marley to perform "I Wear a Chain." This creepy song has Marley directly explaining his situation and Scrooge's dark destiny if he doesn't change. It's a nice showcase for the singer in both cases, although the singer in 56 has a better resonance.

I might have said that last one was a showstopper, if I hadn't watched Concert13. This actor absolutely steals the entire show and possibly several other shows with "I Wear These Chains." It's a bluesy, belted number, almost like a torch song, that just had us saying wow, wow, wow. 

All these songs, even the funny ones, are meant to deepen the emotional impact of Marley's plight and the danger Scrooge is in. They do a great job of this, and also, they're just good songs. 

Stave Two

If it's been a while since you've seen/read A Christmas Carol, the Christmas Past section generally includes an introduction for the spirit and three main sequences. 

Introducing Christmas Past:

Only a few adaptations give the Spirit of Christmas Past a song, most opting to move quickly to the actual events in the past.

In Musical04, Past sings "The Lights of Long Ago," which is a lovely tune, but I suspect it makes more sense in the stage version (that this movie is adapted from), in which it has a broad reprise. In this one, the song is a little long for how little it adds to the characters or story.

The 2013 Concert continues to bring the power with "Rise and Walk with Me." One unique feature of this adaption is that the same actor plays Marley and all the spirits. This brief song (which is solemn and a bit hopeful in tone) is reprised later to introduce the other two Christmas spirits as well.

Young Scrooge at School:

The Muppets wrote a song for this scene but it was cut, and Scrooge70 has a cute reprise of the opening carol sung by children, but no new song here. The only adaptations on our list that depict young Scrooge's schooldays in song are the two almost sung-through versions and, unexpectedly, Mr. Magoo.

Concert13 has young Scrooge sing about being "Better Off Alone" only to change the lyric to "better off at home" after the arrival of Fan and his reconciliation with his family. It's an okay song, but I'm not sure the depiction of young Scrooge as already angry about the holidays entirely works.

In Musical04, they give Scrooge a different backstory entirely. His father is sent to debtor's prison, and his mother sings "God Bless Us, Everyone," while specifically asking her children not to let this make them bitter, but instead to stay full of compassion and love. This usage cements this simple tune as the moral center of the story. It's a lovely tune and we'll see it again. After this is a scene where young Fan and young Scrooge are working and living separate lives, and they sing a duet, "A Place Called Home." Together, these songs really highlight the emotion of Scrooge's lost relationship with his family.

Magoo is an outlier here because for some unknown reason the entire Past and Present sections are switched. However, when they get to the past, Scrooge sings "Alone in the World" about being a lonely child. It's not terrible in principle, although the lyrics are a bit trite, and I have some trouble believing pathos from Mr. Magoo's character voice. 


Fezziwig's Party:

Even non-musical adaptations often have diegetic music for the party scene, so these films and specials really should step up their game here, and several rise to the occasion. 

Scrooge70 features what might be my favorite of its songs, a vigorous, cheerful dance tune, "December the 25th." The lyrics are playful and the dancing is a good balance between looking realistic for the time period and being a showcase for the dancers.

Musical04 features "Fezziwig's Annual Christmas Ball," which is fun, if a bit obvious and a smidge long. There's some decent dancing here. 

After a weak choice in the prior scene, the 2013 Concert comes back with a vengeance with "Dance Your Christmas." It's primarily a chorus number, featuring a solo fiddler, and it's great. Just a lot of energy, almost a fierce edge to the joy, a exhortation, a demand to dance. Choruses should do this independent of this show. 

Stingy56, meanwhile, features a decent dance number over an instrumental version of "Old-Fashioned Christmas," and the Muppets have a decent instrumental here, but no vocals and not really any dance. Both of these versions feature Belle heavily at the party and are in a hurry to get to the next scene. 

Belle and the Breakup:

Everyone lets Belle sing. (Yes, we'll talk about the Muppets, hold your felt horses.) It's a point of high emotion with a female character, so yep, we're going to sing. The major decision made by the writers is whether to include a song from when Belle and Scrooge are happy together or jump straight to the breakup scene.

In Scrooge70, Belle (here Isabel) starts with a song called "Happiness," which is alright, I guess. It seems like a lot of vague bland sentiments, ending with "happiness is whatever you want it to be." Which... okay? Some deeper, less surface-level sentiment would be appreciated here. It's followed by "You...You," in which older Scrooge sings about being sad that he lost her. I didn't find either of these songs particularly compelling in terms of the music, the characters, or their relationship. They make an attempt, but they don't work for me.

Both versions of The Stingiest Man in Town blend the young happiness into the breakup. It starts with a duet called "Golden Dreams" where Belle and Scrooge sing passionately about their excited plans for the future, leading into "It Might Have Been," when they sing a sweeping, theatrical number about the loss of their love. In the live-action version, this sequence includes a short dream ballet between the songs, in which dancers build a literal wall of golden bricks between the two. On the nose? Sure, but I love it for sheer theatricality.

Musical04 has Scrooge actually propose at the Fezziwigs' party, and young Scrooge, old Scrooge, and Belle (here called Emily) sing a reprise of "A Place Called Home." It's a good way to tie together Scrooge's past chances for happiness and family, and a decent song, although Belle/Emily's singing sometimes leans too far toward a pop ballad style when everyone else is doing Broadway. This one actually doesn't include a break-up song, instead just running a somber instrumental version of "A Place Called Home" under the dialogue.

In Magoo, Belle sings a song called "Winter Was Warm," which is actually a quite lovely poetic little song about regret and the loss of young love. Hey, I liked a song from this one!

Okay, let's talk about the Muppets. It's common knowledge for fans of both A Christmas Carol and the Muppets that Belle's song, "When Love Was Gone," was cut from most (but not all) releases of this movie. Without it, there's a weird emotional jump in the middle of the scene where the narrators Gonzo and Rizzo and older Scrooge are reacting to the missing content. The song does feel somewhat out of place with the rest of the music, but it's a sweet and sad song where Belle sings her regret and her resolve to move on without Scrooge. Older Scrooge sings along at the end, and his regret and despair is what makes the scene special, not the song. 

For me, the most emotionally effective of these songs is the one from the 2013 Concert, "I Won't Keep You." The singer for Belle does it with a beautiful balance between determination, selfless love, and devastation. The lyrics closely adapt her attitude from the original: she recognizes how her fiance has changed, and she chooses to release him to follow his own path so she can follow hers. The simplicity of the music keeps the focus on the emotion, and I found this extremely poignant. 

Stave Three

There are two points most adaptations choose to highlight in song in Stave Three: the introduction/philosophy of Christmas Present and the scene with the Cratchit household. None of these adaptations (not even the ones that read a lot of Dickens' narration straight) cover the extended montage from the book in which Present and Scrooge visit many different celebrations over many days, so these songs sometimes cover similar ground by showing many people celebrating. 

In short, something in this section is often the most "this is the meaning of Christmas" song, so viewers' opinions on any one song are likely to be colored by their feelings on that topic. 

Christmas Present: 

Christmas Present's first song tends to introduce the character and the celebration of Christmas.

In my opinion, the weakest of these is "I Like Life" from Scrooge70. Present gets Scrooge drunk and sings about the physical pleasures of life (music, food, drink, etc.) The song could work if it were about "being in the present" so to speak, but the sentiment here is so shallow that it's unworthy of this character and adds nothing interesting. Even as I watched it the first time, I thought this song must exist purely to create something to reprise later. But the reprise being better doesn't justify the initial song being this insipid.

The Stingiest Man in Town chooses to focus on the connection between Present and Father Christmas/Santa Claus, which is a choice that I loved as a child and now I'm not as sure about. "The Christmas Spirit" is a song about children and toys. The song is fine as a chirpy cheery holiday tune, but it doesn't completely belong in A Christmas Carol. 

Musical04 features a unique twist here, placing Present and Scrooge at a holiday pantomime full of children. "Abundance and Charity" is a pretty good big production number, although it overstays its welcome a little. It's hitting the same notes about happy kids and taking pleasure in the world that the others above did, but tying them together with ideals of sharing and giving, which is why it works better.

Concert13 leans into the literal descriptions of the cornucopia that surrounds Present on his arrival in "Feast Your Eyes." This is fine, if a bit obvious, and leads into a return to the tune from "Rise and Walk with Me" (once the actor returns from his costume change), which is brief, but effective. 

My personal favorite of these comes from the Muppets. During "It Feels Like Christmas," Scrooge and Present walk the streets to observe all the ways people share joy and love. A few other adaptations hit similar high points later in the Present section, but I think this is the strongest opening. 

The Cratchit Family:

The scene where Scrooge watches the Cratchits celebrate Christmas has three purposes: it shows him that their family love is more valuable than his money, it establishes Tiny Tim's illness, and (in some adaptations) it shows him that even though he treats them poorly, they do not choose to be cruel in response.

In Scrooge70, the only song for this scene is Tiny Tim singing briefly about making a wish for a "Beautiful Day." It's an odd choice that feels disconnected from the setting and the story (he's just performing for the family for fun), and he almost doesn't seem sick.

This sequence suffers in the 2013 Concert through being very short of actors. The orchestra and chorus stand in for the bustle of the Cratchits, and then Bob sings "There Never Was Such a Christmas," a sprightly tune about the beauty and wonder of their humble feast and being excited and thankful for what they have. This is a fun sequence, but unfortunately, the same actor who plays Bob has to turn around and deliver a sung "God Bless Us Everyone" in a strained falsetto as Tim. Bless that actor, he tried, but it was so awkward.

In the same scene in Mr. Magoo (reminder that this bizarrely comes before the Past sequence), the Cratchit children sing their wishes for a fancier Christmas, and Bob declares that all they need is "The Lord's Bright Blessing" and to be together. It's a cheery, silly song, but it doesn't quite nail the all-you-need-is-love vibe that a lot of these songs are going for, because they seem to have almost literally nothing and Bob keeps admitting that their holiday is not "grand."  

The Stingiest Man in Town continues its Santa/Christmas Present theme by literally having the eldest Cratchit sister sing to Tiny Tim, "Yes, There Is a Santa Claus." Full disclosure: I love this song, independent of the movie. It was something I saw as a kid that told me it was okay to believe in some kind of holiday magic of goodwill without literally believing that a man in a red suit lived at the North Pole. However, despite there being clear connections between Present and Father Christmas, this song doesn't tell us much about the Cratchits, who ought to be the focus of this scene. 

This is followed directly in Stingy56 by "One Little Boy," which comes a bit later in the '78 remake. I think the latter order improves the emotional arc slightly, so I'll discuss this song in a moment. 

The Muppets bring out the emotional core of their film with "Bless Us All." Tim leads the Cratchit family in a celebration of family about always looking for the good and reaching for light and love. This nails a more emotional version of the scene, emphasizing the Cratchits' good hearts, especially Tim's. 

Musical04 tops its first Christmas Present number with "Christmas Together." It's a huge, sprawling movie musical showcase, starting with just Tim singing about how being with his family is the best part of Christmas and expanding to eventually feature people from every walk of life all over London showing Scrooge how they're happy being together. The dancing is charming, and the song is a ton of fun. This sequence even includes Fred, although we don't visit his party. 

Closing Out Present:

Some adaptations leave Christmas Present once the Cratchits' scene is done, but a few have more to say.

Scrooge70 features Fred's party scene and follows it with a muted reprise of Belle's song "Happiness," which I presume is supposed to imply Scrooge regrets not having a family or a relationship with Fred.

Concert13 explores Ignorance and Want and Scrooge's destiny in a huge rock number, "Beware." It starts out okay if a bit overwrought, demanding Scrooge look at the misery around him. However, it really sort of beats the point into the ground, and there's a weird part in the middle where I'm not sure if the actor is misspeaking the line and Scrooge should be saying that he "created" Ignorance and Want, but it sounds like he says he "is" Ignorance and Want, which makes no sense.

Both versions of the Stingiest Man in Town feature two more songs before we get to the Future, although they change up the order. "Birthday Party of the King" is a decent enough song about Jesus as songs about Jesus go, sung by Fred in Stingy56 and the narrator bug in Stingy78, but what it's doing in A Christmas Carol is a mystery. The other song, however, is a winner. "One Little Boy," despite having a few awkward lyric choices, deeply explores Scrooge's realization that he cares what happens to Tiny Tim, and by extension, what happens to all children, and maybe all people. It's all about humanizing Scrooge, forcing him to realize that everyone is important. Circling back to this idea at the end of the Present section, as Stingy78 does, leaves Scrooge in the right despairing frame of mind to move on to the last spirit.

Stave Four

The visit with the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come is a bit dicey, musically. Even the more comedic adaptations usually take this part a little more seriously, and the musical styles don't always lend themselves to gravitas. We've got a few effective choices, a few bizarre ones, and the Muppets just leave the whole business to an evocative score.

Most adaptations will fit in the dialogue from the businessmen who don't care about Scrooge dying and from the people selling his things. Sometimes the Cratchit family is separated musically from the other future visions, and sometimes not.

Let's get Mr. Magoo out of the way. Here you'll sit through an extremely long song/slapstick routine for the rag-pickers who steal and sell Scrooge's belongings: "We're Despicable (Plunderer's March)." We've never seen these characters before, and the song is incredibly bizarre. These characters are supposed to be venal and jaded, not necessarily villains, but this is just a song about how they like being bad. The lyrics are kinda cute and catchy, but it's like a villain song dropped in from a completely different story. This is followed by a reprise of "Alone in the World" when Scrooge is sad about his own death.

Another very odd Future song is from Scrooge70. It's the most obnoxiously catchy song in the whole dang show: "Thank You Very Much," which appears here as an extremely long, cheerful song and dance number in which the people in debt to Scrooge celebrate his death. It's extra odd because the entire joke (that Scrooge doesn't realize he's dead and thinks they're actually grateful to him) is expressed in the scene before the song, so the song adds nothing to the story, and there is never a scene where Scrooge realizes the truth, leaving the whole sequence emotionally unmoored. 

I like that in Concert13, since Yet to Come is silent, Scrooge has to sing this spirit's intro, and the orchestra plays the "Rise and Walk with Me" theme with no singing over it. This leads into a short sung montage involving the various future scenes and the choir and Scrooge sing together about someone (Scrooge) dying alone (This is all called "Death Duet" on the song list). Next, Bob Cratchit sings a sad little song about Tim, "No Trouble." It reminds me a lot of a style I'm fairly ambivalent about that you see in some modern musicals - very breathy singing, very slight orchestration. It's plenty poignant, but I still found it a bit hokey at times (reminder that this is the same actor who played Tim 20 minutes ago). 

Stingy56 doesn't include singing for most of the sequence, choosing instead to feature an extended dance number over an instrumental version of Marley's song from earlier. The dancers are something like spirits, shadows, or demons, and they pull Scrooge all over the cemetery, creating an extremely surreal sequence. At the end, Scrooge sings "Mankind Should Be My Business," an excellent, determined, and uplifting anthem to his new perspective. 

Stingy78 shortens this sequence quite a bit (not having dancers), instead just having ghosts threaten Scrooge with a brief sung reprise of "I [You] Wear a Chain."

The 2004 Musical makes a valiant attempt to mesh singing and dancing with horror with "Dancing on Your Grave," a sequence that introduces and transitions between the various future scenes. It's the main place in this movie where you can really see that this score was originally composed for the stage. The big chorus/dance number is effectively a sung montage through all the Stave Four scenes in the same space - that setup obviously makes more sense on a foggy stage with vignettes moving on and off from the sides than in a foggy cemetery in which it's not clear why various characters are here. It's a good use of short reprises and reuses of earlier music, but it would be more effective if the film treatment were either more or less surreal instead of trying to have it both ways.

That's not the end of the singing in this sequence in that film, though. "Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Today," begins with Scrooge's regret for his actions and his declaration of his new resolutions. Continuing the theme of things that are probably more awesome on stage, a bunch of young ghosts/spirits/angels then appear and sing a transcendent reprise of "God Bless Us, Everyone" with him. I actually found it lovely, but Scrooge's part may arguably be beyond the actor's abilities. (There's a stage cast album you can check out for comparison.)

Stave Five

We're heading for the final stretch now, so get ready for reprises, whether you want them or not!

Christmas Morning:

Most adaptations start this section by giving Scrooge a chance to sing his happiness and transformation separately from the grand finale. 

In Magoo, Scrooge reprises "Ringle, Ringle," with new lyrics about spending money on others.

In my opinion, the lead in Scrooge70 does his best singing work here in the song "I'll Begin Again," in which Scrooge declares his intention to change. Unfortunately, the mood of the song - determined and enlightened - is immediately undermined because the script requires him to immediately flip into extremely giddy optimism as soon as the song is over. He then sings a reprise of "I Like Life" as he goes out into the streets, which at least works better in this context than its original treatment. 

In the 2013 Concert, Scrooge sings his prayer to the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come ("Death Duet Part 2") and it blends directly into "Christmas Morning Montage," in which Scrooge declares his intention to live in "the past, the present, and the future." He continues through the morning excitement, eventually reprising "There Never Was Such a Christmas," reprising Fred's part of "You Can Keep Your Christmas," and leading the chorus in a return to "Dance Your Christmas." The reprises work well and really this should have been the finale.

When Scrooge wakes in both versions of The Stingiest Man in Town, he bursts into a cheery reprise of "The Christmas Spirit," which is cute. In the animated version, this song continues through his shopping trip, whereas a montage like that wouldn't work in the live performance. 

In the 2004 Musical, Scrooge sings a song that reprises the music/rhythm from "Nothing to Do with Me" in "What a Day, What a Sky," in which he makes things right with other characters and explains that now he understands that everyone is connected, so everything "has to do with [him]." 

In the Muppets, Scrooge explains his new philosophy in "Thankful Heart," where he sings with the crowds about his intention to focus on friendship, love, and gratitude. 


Sticking the landing is always a challenge. Do you trust a reprise or try to introduce something new? 

Remember that I said the 2013 Concert should have ended on the reprise of "Dance Your Christmas"? Yeah, there's another song. It starts with Bob Cratchit reprising the prayer that he sung awkwardly as Tim in a previous section, but then it changes into a huge gospel number, "God Bless Us Everyone." Now, the number is largely fine. But neither the music nor the sentiment really work with the rest of the concert we just watched. A lot of the lyrics turn into a call to action for the audience to get out and give back to their communities. Again, I like the sentiment, but it's an odd transition to try to force in at the end. 

Magoo reprises "The Lord's Bright Blessing," as the Cratchit kids get the stuff they wanted for Christmas and the animators suddenly remember this is all taking place on a stage and pan back to see the audience. It's probably the only song that would work to reprise as a finale.

Scrooge70 tries to jam in a reprise of what feels like every song in the dang film, mostly highlighting another long version of "Thank You Very Much," which is still annoyingly catchy and also tediously long. This sequence features big crowd scenes and more dancing, and it's very unclear how much of the story actually wraps up. I couldn't shake how much the song sounds like someone was given "Consider Yourself" from the musical Oliver and told: write this song but different. Considering that Scrooge was filmed on the redressed sets of the Oliver! movie... that might just be what happened. 

The Muppets run into a slight issue here, as the closing, "The Love We Found," is a happier reprise of Belle's song, which is a bit awkward if you watched a version which cut that song. It's not a terrible song, but it's not a satisfying finale - the lyrics and tone are adjusted to make it happier, but the new version is a little awkward. It's also very short, almost jarringly so. However, the movie immediately transitions into a chorus singing a slightly syncopated version of "It Feels Like Christmas" over the credits, as though they knew that would be a better song to leave audiences humming. (Do yourself a favor and turn it off before the '90s-era obligatory bad pop cover of "When Love Was Gone" plays over the later credits.)

The two versions of The Stingiest Man in Town split at the Cratchit house. The 1956 live performance has an extended scene with Scrooge and the Cratchits, and Bob and Scrooge sing a reprise of "One Little Boy" about their hopes for Tim's future. Both versions reprise "There Is a Santa Claus" with the same lyrics, but reframed in context to position Scrooge's kindness without expecting anything in return as Santa-like. (This is even more explicit in the animated as his gifts appear to be anonymous in that version.) This is the "real" finale of the live-action version in some senses, although there are two more short musical moments: first the narrators return to sing the little couplet that opened the show, and after that the camera pans over the whole cast singing "Old-Fashioned Christmas," while an announcer transitions into a word from the sponsor. Ah, old-fashioned television.

Stingy78 adds one more full number, placing "Mankind Should Be My Business" here, with Scrooge singing to Bob on Boxing Day about his change of heart, instead of where this song falls in the original. I think both versions work as enjoyable closing moments.

Musical04 takes barely a breath after the previous song to continue the parade of happy reunions. Fred and his wife briefly revisit the song "Home" during this sequence, and then the whole cast sings and dances briefly to a reprise of "Christmas Together" which is, frankly, a fantastic finale. (The stage version of this show apparently closes with a full-cast reprise of "God Bless Us Everyone," which is even better as a final number, but I understand why it might not have felt right for the screen.)


Well, what did I learn from this exercise? As I expected, there are no perfect versions (that I know of) but all of these had their strengths. The 1970 Scrooge has impressive production values, but I found most of the musical choices flawed. I had never seen the 2004 Musical version before this year, and I was surprised how solidly good that one is. The 2013 Concert has some incredibly amazing numbers and a few very strange missteps. I still love the Muppets despite the weak ending, and I think The Stingiest Man in Town (a childhood favorite of mine) has great moments and awkward ones. 

Musical numbers are often about emotion, and laying out all of these musical numbers like this highlights one question that needs to be solved when adapting A Christmas Carol: What is the emotional heart of the story? Is there a core thing that Scrooge is responding to? Different adaptations lend more weight to different aspects of character or backstory. 

In both versions of The Stingiest Man in Town, it's definitely Tiny Tim. Scrooge's change of heart hinges on his pity for Tim and his ability to expand that feeling to encompass others. In the Muppets, I think Tim and the Cratchit family are the most important, but that sequence builds on the emotion of the Belle scene (when that song is present). 

Musical versions are much more likely than non-musical versions of A Christmas Carol to place a lot of emphasis on Belle. In Scrooge70, all of the emotional songs are about Belle (and to a lesser extent Fred), and the Cratchits are almost an afterthought. The 2004 Musical places the most emotional musical impact on Belle, Fan, and Fred, while incorporating both family and community as values that Scrooge needs to learn about. 

In the end, I still find it fascinating that a book that seems like it has a fairly specific story and characters has so much room for variety in adaptation. Could it be done as a rock opera? The 2013 concert could have leaned even harder that way. Classical opera? It probably exists. 

I know there is an animated musical adaptation this year from Netflix (I haven't seen it quite yet), but it uses the music (or some of the music?) from the 1970 movie musical. I'm a bit disappointed in that, as the music is probably the second weakest part of that movie (after the lead), but maybe they'll pull something good out of it. 

This year's movie Spirited (full review coming soon) is an extremely fun musical inspired by A Christmas Carol, but it comes at the story and the music from a completely different angle.

Overall, I look forward to seeing what other adaptations appear in the holiday seasons yet to come. 


  1. This was so fun to read!

    1. Thanks! It was pretty fun to write, although it did require a spreadsheet to organize all the songs to keep them straight :)


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