During a recent Missoula Community Theatre rehearsal, a staff member remarked to Joe Martinez that the songs for "A Christmas Carol: The Musical" sounded familiar, despite never having heard them before.
Audiences will "walk in and hear music that's familiar even though they've never heard it before," said Martinez, MCT's artistic director and the director for this production.
The tunes for this adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic tale were written by Alan Menken, the composer behind his own share of Disney earworms. He was behind the 1990s animated versions of "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid" and its live-action musical, "Newsies."
Martinez said the music is one of the overwhelming appeals of this Christmas story, since it adds a new spin on a story we're familiar with: One night, a wealthy miser named Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by ghosts from his past who teach him to change his ways.
Martinez is effusive about the way the whole show comes together. He tears up during rehearsals. This is the fifth time he's directed it, although this is the first time in Missoula. The previous productions came during his tenure at Arizona Broadway Theatre in Phoenix. They performed a version that was significantly pared down from the New York one, which required hundreds of actors.
Martinez is following the scaled-down version that he honed in Arizona. The MCT cast of 30 is led by Malcolm Lowe, who's been with MCT productions since the mid-'90s. Martinez said he had the right experience, age and vocal ability for the part. Lowe has a baritone voice and has sung with local auditioned choir Dolce Canto. The role of the miser requires stamina, too: Lowe will be onstage for almost the entire show.
Thain Bertin plays Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's beleaguered employee. Bertin starred in MCT's "Tarzan: The Musical," "Les Miserables" and "Mamma Mia!"
Tiny Tim is played by Ian McLean, age 9, who's performed in several kids shows but is making his debut in a community show.
Overall, Martinez said the show and their production has a lightness to it. The costumes will be appropriately Dickensian. For the ghosts that haunt Scrooge, he told the costumers to think "Disney's Haunted Mansion" — he said the show should be a little scary, but a little funny.
"To me, it's a Halloween story and it just happens to take place at Christmas," he said.
He noted that MCT last performed the show in 2009, but it had a different director, cast and concept.
"If you saw the show in 2009, you haven't seen this production," he said.