REVIEW: Team Starkid’s “A VHS Christmas Carol”

A Christmas Carol is one of the most well-known Christmas stories of all time.It’s been adapted numerous times—for television, the stage, and the big screen. If you can think of an angle, it’s probably been applied to A Christmas Carol. In that light, I don’t know how novel an idea Starkid’s A VHS Christmas Carol—someone must have done A Christmas Carol in the style of 1980s pop music—but honestly, I don’t care. A VHS Christmas Carol is exactly the kind of thing I wanted this holiday season. It’s an album (and virtual live visual album) that’s packed with catchy, earwormy tunes, energy, and heart. It’s the perfect holiday pick-me-up. (4.5 out of 5 wands)

A VHS Christmas Carol (written by Clark Baxtresser, directed by Corey Lubowich)
Join StarKid for a new holiday tradition blending Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with 80’s music videos into a synth-elating Live Visual Album experience! This reimagining of the classic tale from composer Clark Baxtresser features and all-star(kid) cast serving up vibes from Christmases past, an escape from Christmas present, and a cutting edge blend of live and filmed performances straight out of Christmas future!

Starkid’s A VHS Christmas Carol is exactly what it sounds like—a 1980s-styled concept record that tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge entirely through song. And it’s as good as you’d hope it would be. From the moment the album begins, you’re enveloped in a soundscape of synthesizers and cheese. I don’t know how else to describe the music other than quintessentially 80s. If you’re familiar with Starkid’s catalog of shows, the music of A VHS Christmas Carol is stylistically similar to that of Holy Musical, B@man! Composed by Clark Baxtresser, every song is bursting with energy, killer harmonies, and emotion. With genres ranging from power ballads, dance music, and the roaring 80s pop hit, A VHS Christmas Carol has something for everyone. It’s hard to pick a favorite song, but I have a few—namely: “Bah Humbug,” “I’m The Ghost,” and “The Final Ghost.” However, this is one of those albums that doesn’t have a bad song on it. It’s one of Starkid’s tightest scores in a long time; everything feels essential—probably due to the whole “it’s a concept album” thing. But still. It’s an excellent Christmas surprise.

The cast are all at the top of their game. Dylan Saunders is stunning as Scrooge, bringing all the emotion you want him to bring. Jaime Lyn Beatty, James Tolbert, and Jamie Burns make pretty big splashes as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future (respectively). The rest of the cast is equally great, though, and it’s such a delight to see the return of some of the non-LA based Starkids who have been missing from Starkid’s most recent shows—including AJ Holmes, Britney Coleman, Ali Gordon, Brian Holden, and Meredith Stepien. Along with the music, the cast are easily the highlight of A VHS Christmas Carol and they carry a lot of the show on their backs. 

The plot of A Christmas Carol is condensed quite a bit for the album. The book isn’t exactly long, but it’s fair to say that the album breezes over most of the plot. A VHS Christmas Carol is a good length—just under 40 minutes—but that doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for slow, character moments. Instead, Clark Baxtresser ushers the narrative along with quick glimpses at the novel’s biggest plot points, connected by narration that ties it all together. In all honesty, it’s a pretty good approach. Listening to the album (and watching the visual aspect) generates the same feeling as watching a Christmas special. Nobody watches Christmas specials expecting deep dives into the characters, or even a particularly complex plotline, and the same is definitely true for A VHS Christmas Carol. However, that’s not a complaint! A VHS Christmas Carol feels quintessentially Christmassy, even if the music doesn’t scream “Christmas.” Baxtresser’s story hits all of the notes you want it to while moving at a brisk pace and keeping the energy high. A VHS Christmas Carol doesn’t bring any new angle to the narrative of Dickens’ classic, but it doesn’t need to.

As for the visuals, Corey Lubowich made the best out of the situation we find ourselves in. Given the nature of 2020, A VHS Christmas Carol had to be done completely virtually. So, Lubowich and Baxtresser framed the visual element as a “visual album.” Essentially, A VHS Christmas Carol is a collection of music videos for the album. And it works pretty well. In all honesty, I wish they’d leaned harder into the music video element and had the actors lip-sync to their performances on the album, as doing it “live” led to some inconsistencies in the audio quality. But aside from that, watching A VHS Christmas Carol is every bit as fun as listening to the album. Of particular joy is seeing how everyone leaned into the 80’s aesthetic. There are lots of jumpsuits, mustaches, crazy hair, and 80s cheese in these visuals. The whole thing feels like you found some strange VHS tape in a drawer, shoved it into your VCR, and found this thing on it. It’s a lot of fun and well worth a watch if you’re a Starkid fan.

All in all, Starkid’s A VHS Christmas Carol has all the makings of a modern Christmas classic. It’s a retelling of A Christmas Carol that manages to hold its own against the myriad of other retellings. As a concept record, the music is the obvious star of the show—and it’s a pretty bright star. With the novelty of sounding like something made in the 1980s, Baxtresser’s score deftly ushers in the Christmas spirit without ever sounding like Christmas music. The score is catchy, well-realized, and will bury itself in your brain for days. The cast are at the top of their games here, all of them perfectly cast and bringing their A-games. Even the visuals, constrained as they were, are an absolute delight, managing to perfectly capture the feeling of weird music videos from the 1980s. For Starkid fans, A VHS Christmas Carol is a must-see. If you can only pick between buying the digital ticket or the album, the album offers a complete experience. You’ll lose some of the linking narration found in the digital ticket, as well as the delightful visuals, but you’ll still get the entire story. But if you can afford both, definitely check both out. I cannot recommend A VHS Christmas Carol enough.

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