New Twist in Old Favorite: Nocturne Theatre Presents ‘Madame Scrooge’

Photo provided by the Nocturne Theatre

By Mikaela STONE

Glendale has waited for news on the Glendale Center Theatre’s fate since its closure during the pandemic. Overall the hope has been that someone would purchase the beloved site then build on its rich history rather than demolish the site.

That someone is Meyer2Meyer Entertainment, headed by the husband and wife team of Melissa and Justin Meyer. Though they have renamed the Glendale Center Theatre the Nocturne Theatre, they continue to uplift the Theatre’s past of 55 years of “A Christmas Carol” – with a twist. Throughout December, the Nocturne Theatre is hosting showings of its own version of “A Christmas Carol” called “Madame Scrooge.”

The genderbent take on an old classic stars the powerhouse Stephanie Hodgdon as Evelyn Scrooge alongside a theater company that sings a repertoire of original songs with lyrics by Justin Meyer and a score written by Chris Thomas. That “Madame Scrooge” is happening in the former Glendale Center Theatre is serendipitous; the Meyers had already planned to perform an adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” before they went on the hunt for a place that fit their niche as both a sit-down theater and a proper space for the interactive theater for which their company is known. After two years of searching, the couple selected the Glendale Center Theater; it was only after the purchase they learned that they were taking up a mantle the locals missed dearly. During production, passersby would peek through the doors and ask whether they were finally open and if musicals were occurring again –two questions that can be answered with a resounding “Yes!”

Well known for esoteric events such as its Haunted Soiree, the gender of the Meyers’ “Madame Scrooge” is not the only creative choice that differs from a typical production of “A Christmas Carol.” Meyer2Meyer lives up to the darkness implied in the Nocturne Theatre’s name by adding, well, ghostliness to the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come as well as to the character of Marley. For example, in the classic scene when Scrooge’s door knocker turns into the face of his former partner Jacob Marley, in this version Evelyn Scrooge finds not only Marley’s face but his whole upper body reaching through her door with a terrible creaking of wood. Soon after, Marley arrives in Scrooge’s bedroom accompanied by an entire dance crew of skeletons performing a rattling number with chain props while they glow under blacklights.

As Marley, actor Brayden Hades’s attention-grabbing presence to the sound of cheery brass as he warns Scrooge of her possible fate is reminiscent of Robin Williams’ performance in Aladdin’s “Never Had a Friend Like Me.” However, the song that received the largest round of applause from the audience was “Life Isn’t Fair,” a bitter song that Scrooge sings to the charity solicitors in growling altos and swooping belts, asserting a new take on Scrooge’s cruel personality – she believes there is no such thing as right choices because life cannot truly be stopped. It is her belief that misery lasts a lifetime “and then you decompose.” Delivered with its terse beat, audience members may not agree with Scrooge’s morals but are quite likely to wish the Nocturne Theatre would release a cast album so that they might hear her treatise again.

Justin Meyer wrote the song with Hodgdon’s voice in mind; Hodgdon’s credits include the ongoing one- woman show “She Will Rock You” where she performs songs penned by rock and roll greats such as Stevie Nix and Freddie Mercury.

Without a strong Scrooge, any adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” crumbles, but “Madame Scrooge” holds steady. Even more astounding, because “She Will Rock You” takes so much of Hodgdon’s time, there was originally concern about her availability regarding this role. However, once Hodgdon looked into her calendar, she realized that she did have a short span where she was not working – a time that perfectly landed during the production of “Madame Scrooge.” This, paired with the fortuitous purchase of the theater, really does seem like a real life Christmas miracle.

Unfortunately, the adaptation does fall into one tired trope – part of Scrooge’s tragic backstory is that she cannot conceive children. Female characters driven to villainy due to infertility or a hysterectomy have appeared in media from Hitchcock to Marvel, running all the way back to Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. However, both the writers and actors were aware of a need for nuance in Madame Scrooge’s story. While the story is in many ways not constrained by any particular time period in spite of its historical fiction trappings, actress Hodgdon elaborated on the writing choice by explaining that “becoming a mother and becoming a wife were of the utmost importance at the time and since she couldn’t do that … she learned to assert herself in other ways.” Hodgdon also noted that she didn’t want Madame Scrooge’s arc to be about her character going from the feminine to masculine — Scrooge’s reformation is not about changing who she is as a person, but rather showing her that she does not need the armor she has put up to protect herself. The “kernel of who she is,” as Hodgdon puts it, remains intact. She has buried the part of herself that knows how to have fun and appreciate life.

In the final scene, as she accepts that she does have the ability and responsibility to affect others’ lives, she is not only learning to be charitable but also to have fun as the audience saw her do as a young woman. This, combined with the fact that infertility is not the only motivating factor in Evenlyn Scrooge’s bitterness, allows her to remain a character rather than a caricature. The most notable heartbreak in her life is the death of her older sister and primary caretaker who sacrificed her own health and safety for the money to take care of her little sister. Seeing her sister’s struggles is part of what inspires Scrooge to become a miser; the Meyers noted they did not want Scrooge’s only personality trait to be her greed.

As enjoyable as the music and acting is, the crown jewel of “Madame Scrooge” is the costuming. Melissa Meyer acknowledged, “We didn’t want it to just be grays and blacks and blues, we wanted to add our own twist.” It is the costumes that elevate the show from being an interesting perspective on a classic to a spooky masterpiece that can stand strong beside Meyer2Meyer’s soirees. The ensemble sports half masks that distort their eyes and nose, making them look like faerie tale creatures. However, it is the supernatural where the delightful costuming shines the brightest with the Ghost of Christmas Past dressed in an outfit resembling an ornament as she quite literally spins through Scrooge’s former life, the Ghost of Christmas Present sporting a pair of curling horns above a mask reminiscent of celtic winter solstice art, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come brandishing six arms tipped in long, brittle fingers peeking out from its robe. The ghostly ensemble dancing with Marley features very different costumes for each skeleton with some dressed in lacy white clothing from various periods to others whose bones are incorporated into their costume. One dapper ghost danced with a rib cage over his waistcoat. Most frightening of all were the masks donned by the devils Scrooge encounters when she visits hell in her own future, singing “A Fate Worse than Death” – an effect achieved both simply and artistically through swirling red lighting. Almost alien in nature, the masks sported rounded nubs of horns and hollow eye sockets as their wearers wrapped a belting Evelyn Scrooge in chains. This, paired with their shambling movements, were enough to push the audience’s reaction into the uncanny valley, preparing them for an all the more joyous contrast in the following scene when Scrooge awakens alive, well and changed forever.

Overall, Justin Meyer’s writing contains all of the beloved elements of an old classic with the addition of several clever moments that will make audiences of all ages laugh. While the show is great for families, it is important to know how one’s child will react to potentially frightening masks if they are particularly young. The show does contain smoke effects, strobe lights and loud noises. “Madame Scrooge” is expected to return Christmas of next year.

The Nocturne Theatre’s upcoming shows to watch out for are the “Phantom of the Opera,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Into the Woods” and “Cabaret” but that is not all the Meyers have up their sleeve. The couple has converted the upper office spaces of the former Glendale Center Theatre into interactive theater spaces, such as its children’s program “Reindeer Games,” where children can attend Santa’s workshop and visit holiday favorites such as Rudolph and Jack Frost. For adults, the new La Brache lounge overlooks the street outside where the Meyers hope to host events to come. Should one hope to ring in the new year by celebrating Glendale’s beloved theater’s return, the Nocturne Theatre is throwing a Midnight Masquerade on New Year’s Eve. 

For more information, visit The Nocturne Theatre is located at 324 N. Orange St. in Glendale.