Several weeks ago I got a call from Chase Masterson. She was in a meeting with producers Ford Thaxton and Mark Banning, who were planning a new recording of the music from the 1970 movie Scrooge, which starred Albert Finney. Chase was to sing the role of Mrs. Fezziwig, and Ford and Mark were interested in me to play the most miserable miser in literature. I’d never seen this musical adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, so I watched the DVD and found myself quite moved by Finney’s performance -- made all the more impressive by the fact that he was only in his mid-30’s at the time. The Leslie Bricusse songs were great, and Scrooge’s transformation from isolated misanthrope (“I Hate People”) to redeemed man/giddy enthusiast (“I Like Life”) through his visions of Christmases past, present and “yet to come,” was beautifully realized in song. I was particularly touched by his ballad of remorse “You. . . You,” which Scrooge sings when he realizes he lost his one true love to his obsession for making money. The greatest acting challenge was “I’ll Begin Again,” the impassioned pledge to change his life that Scrooge sings when he awakens in panic and dread from his terrible dreams. Watching Finney in that scene in the movie was heartbreaking. No one could improve on that, I thought. So… why try?
Well, it seems the original film soundtrack is only on out-of-print vinyl; it was never released on CD for obscure legal reasons. Here was an opportunity to bring this music to a new generation of listeners, and my only responsibility was to do my best to live up to that opportunity. And -- let’s face it -- I’ve had a certain amount of experience playing cranky curmudgeons, even a few non-holographic ones.
The recording experience, perhaps eight to 10 hours spread out over three days, was creative and fun thanks to music arranger/producer Dominik Hauser. He was very enthusiastic about any ideas I had, including using cobbled-together dialogue from Dickens’ original story to enhance the “radio drama” feeling for the listener. I should admit that these brief spoken-word segments served other purposes. From the producers’ standpoint, we were offering even more “bang for your buck.” From mine, they helped me develop my vocal characterization. Most importantly, “I’ll Begin Again” benefits immeasurably from the emotional context afforded by Dickens’ words. It’s the “epiphany moment’ for Scrooge and – if you’re going up against Albert Finney – you want a running start!
Finney, albeit a great actor, is not much of a singer. He does a great deal of speak-singing in the original, as Rex Harrison does in My Fair Lady. Music producer Hauser and I agreed that I would “sing out” more at the end of “I’ll Begin Again” and let the re-born Scrooge sound younger and revitalized.
I did quite a bit of singing on Voyager. I remember pre-recording a song -- having decided my acting choices in advance -- so that the vocal performance would suit the visual. For Scrooge, I was creating a vocal performance that wouldn’t have the benefit of picture, so I made some adjustments. In “I Like Life,” my characterization is broader than Finney’s. Where his Scrooge was oblivious to his hypocrisy that the very poor he despises and ridicules furnish his income (he’s a "lender of last resort"), mine seems aware and happily adjusted to it: “…ka-chin! ha-ha-ha…” is an ad-lib between verses. I should also admit that my third refrain of the title phrase is equal parts Scrooge and Daffy Duck.
The most interesting song to record was “You … You.” I started out not caring for the ballad very much, but working on it made it my favorite. It seemed to demand that kind of a commitment. It is a very intimate, confessional moment for Scrooge and I sang it very quietly and close to the microphone. My wife Linda said I sound like David Bowie on it … which I choose to believe is a good thing.
“I Like Life” was pure joy to record. I experimented with a couple of moments of giggling to enhance Scrooge’s childlike happiness at having a second chance.
The “Thank You Very Much” reprise was my idea. In the movie, Scrooge sings only a line or two in the reprise, but I wanted the opportunity on our recording to have him spread his new-found joy. The reprise fades out with some ad-lib lines reminiscent of the moment Scrooge instructs a young boy to run and buy the biggest turkey in town for Bob Cratchit’s family – my favorite moment in Dickens’ story.
The CD’s cover image of me as Scrooge is an original Randy Glass water color. Randy is an old friend of mine who did the extraordinary drawing of the original Voyager cast. The cover graphics were done by my daughter, Nicky.
One final benefit from recording Scrooge this past fall is that I’ve been in the Christmas spirit for three full months now. That’s a good thing in my house because -- just like Target -- Linda goes straight from Halloween to Christmas.
My best wishes to all the readers of StarTrek.com -- especially those that remember that rather Scrooge-like holographic doctor with fondness -- for a joyful and peaceful holiday season.
Scrooge is available for download on iTunes and Amazon. CD purchase is available on Buysoundtrax.com. Collector Alert : the first 100 CDs ordered come with an extra booklet signed by Mr. Picardo.
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