SHANE Richie is best known as dopey Alfie Moon in TV's EastEnders but his tedious on-off relationship with Kat Slater is a poor vehicle for his talents.

Ever since I saw him in Boogie Nights in Brum several years ago, I've been convinced that Richie's long-term future lies in musical theatre.

He's got a strong voice, perfect comic timing and, in the space of just two hours, is capable of winning the heart of even the most cynical critic.

Richie's well-drawn Ebenezer Scrooge steers clear of caricature, though in the early scenes he was a peculiar cross between the Old Gits from Harry Enfield's TV show and Benny Hill's leering Fred Scuttle.

And the star receives creditable support from a strong cast, including Geoffrey Abbott as put upon clerk Bob Cratchit, Anthony Stuart Lloyd as a garrulous Ghost of Christmas Present and James Earl Adair's guilt-ridden Jacob Marley.

The sweetest voice of the night belonged to Robyn North as Scrooge's first love, Isabel, who was desperate for marriage but soon realised that the miser's true passion was for cold, hard cash.

Les Mis it ain't, but Leslie Bricusse's musical - based on Charles Dickens' familiar Christmas Carol - rattles along nicely and the lively ensemble pieces, especially Thank You Very Much, bring a smile to your face.

As you'd expect, there's buckets of sentimentality, with the crippled Tiny Tim's rendition of The Beautiful Day and the rousing finale reducing many in the audience to snivelling wrecks.

But, hey, this is Christmas and if you were feeling at all "bah humbuggy" before the show, Scrooge's redemption makes you want to rush out and spend every last penny on presents for every kid you know.

Oh, hang on, I think I've done that already...