Theater Review: ‘A Christmas Carol’

A fuller story added to the familiar holiday offering
December 4, 2019 Updated: December 4, 2019

NEW YORK—People love the idea of second chances, which goes a long way in explaining the staying power of Charles Dickens’s 1843 novella, “A Christmas Carol,” quite possibly the ultimate tale of redemption.

Newly arrived to these shores is Jack Thorne’s stage adaptation of this timeless classic, nicely directed by Matthew Warchus. First seen on the London stage in 2017, the play is now dispensing holiday cheer, a moral lesson or two, and the occasional spine-tingling chill at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre.

Ebenezer Scrooge (Campbell Scott), the most miserly man in Victorian London, has amassed a vast fortune through his business of money lending, but he has no friends, and certainly no use for such things as kindness, love, or generosity.

Scrooge’s bookkeeper, Bob Cratchit (Dashiell Eaves), knows this full well. Of course, Scrooge finds the annual “Ho! Ho! Ho!” of the Christmas holiday nothing more than a waste of time.

Things change one Christmas Eve when Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his deceased partner, Jacob Marley (Chris Hoch). Condemned for his own wicked time on earth, Marley offers Scrooge the possibility of a different path, via the upcoming visitations of three spirits. These souls will try to teach the dour Ebenezer the error of his ways by showing him the person he used to be, and the person he is doomed to become. That is, unless he resolves to become a better man.

Thorne has taken the basic elements of the Dickens work and expanded on various points to make this show stand on its own. Chief of these additions is giving Scrooge a more tragic back story—one only hinted at by Dickens—which helps to show why money has become a god to him at the expense of all else.

Also expanded are the characters of Scrooge’s beloved sister Fen (Rachel Prather), and Belle (Sarah Hunt)—the woman he loved and lost.

Festive Yet Dark

The festive atmosphere is apparent the moment one enters the theater, with cast members offering oranges and cookies to those in attendance. Also quite enjoyable are the Christmas carols performed by the company, with the aid of some onstage musicians.

The Cast of A Christmas Carol on Broadway
The cast of “A Christmas Carol,” now on Broadway. (Joan Marcus)

Of course, the original tale is rather dark in spots, and although the set by Rob Howell effectively captures its overtones, the production is helped tremendously by the sight of well over 100 lanterns hanging from the ceiling, giving it a rather special quality. Ultimately, what is presented has a sense of welcoming familiarity, intending to entertain and enlighten rather than emphasize a sense of foreboding.

The show owes much to the time-honored tradition of Christmas pantomime. Long a holiday staple in England, its presence is clearly evident in the last section of the play as the production takes great relish in moving the original story in a somewhat new direction, while inviting the audience to be both a witness and participant in the final scenes.

Effective Performances

Scott makes a fine Ebenezer Scrooge. He nicely brings forth the character’s long-held bitterness and disdain, while believably showing his transformation as he seeks redemption for himself and forgiveness from those he has wronged. Scott plays the final scenes as a man almost giddy with delight. Most affecting is the moment when Scrooge comes face to face with the child he once was and wishes he could spare him what is to come.

Sebastian Ortiz simply steals the show as Cratchit’s lame son, Tiny Tim. An actor with cerebral palsy (as is Jai Ram Srinivasan, who alternates with Ortiz in the role), his entrance and soft speech is guaranteed to bring a tear to even the most cynical audience member. Ortiz’s scenes with Scott are particularly moving.

The rest of the cast is quite good, with standouts including Prather, Hunt, and Andrea Martin and LaChanze. The latter two are, respectively, the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. A nice touch is the way the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come—usually the ominous, silent type—is handled here.

There are a few problems with the show: The beginning feels a bit rushed, and it would have been nice to see the character of Marley given more to do in his initial appearance. However, these are minor quibbles.

This version of “A Christmas Carol” is a welcome addition to the theatrical holiday pantheon and looks to be a perennial audience favorite in the years to come.

‘A Christmas Carol’
The Lyceum Theatre
149 W. 45th St.
Tickets: 212-239-6200, AChristmasCarolBroadway.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (including intermission)
Closes: Jan. 5, 2020

Judd Hollander is a reviewer for Stagebuzz.com and a member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle.

 

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