This is the 37th-best production of “A Christmas Carol” I’ve ever seen, and probably the third-best musical version behind Albert Finney in “Scrooge” and “Mr. Magoo.” And even with those disclaimers, it’s still pretty good, which says something about the enduring appeal of Charles Dickens’ story. Adapted from Broadway and populated with spirits of NBC past and present (Kelsey Grammer, Jason Alexander, Jesse L. Martin), it’s not a bad way to close out the Thanksgiving weekend and offers a well-deserved break to the NBC dramas wrestling with “Desperate Housewives.”
The indefatigable Robert Halmi Sr. has been all over the place this year with sumptuous-looking adaptations of classics, and this one is no exception — schlepping to the producer’s native Budapest to re-create 19th century London on a budget. From a sheer technical standpoint, it’s a nifty achievement, with solid special effects and an appropriately magical look.
The performances, alas, don’t quite measure up to that level, despite several big dance numbers (which lack a certain buoyancy on the small screen) and an Alan Menken score that leaves you humming some of the oft-repeated melodies against your will.
Kelsey Grammer starts slowly as Scrooge but rallies as the movie progresses, while matters are much more hit-miss with the star-studded cameos, particularly Jason Alexander’s hammy Marley under a Roseanne Roseannadanna fright-wig. By contrast, Jane Krakowski appears to have been plucked out of “Angels in America” in a ravishing turn as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Jesse L. Martin (who appeared in “Rent” before “Law & Order”) brings robust vivacity to the Ghost of Christmas Present.
“If I’d known what I know, I’d have done it years ago,” Scrooge croons near the end, capturing the sing-songy nature of Lynn Ahrens’ lyrics, which are serviceable enough but, like the movie itself, only occasionally take flight.
The limited scope of NBC’s movie strategy relies on picking titles that can sell themselves, and this clearly fits the bill. So, much as I’d prefer cuddling up with the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim, give Halmi and the network their due for credibly revisiting an oft-told tale that’s near-impossible to screw up.