A New York Theatre Guide to... A Christmas Carol!
Here's all you need to know about the Broadway premiere of the new stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol...
Having enchanted audiences across the pond at London’s Old Vic in both 2017 and 2018, Tony Award winner Jack Thorne’s adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol is not only returning to the Old Vic for a third consecutive run this year, it’s also celebrating its Broadway debut! Under the direction of Tony Award winner Matthew Warchus, this festive and frolicking production began previews at the Lyceum Theatre on November 7, 2019, officially opening on November 20 for a limited holiday engagement through January 5, 2020. ‘Tis the season to be jolly on the Great White Way!
What’s it all about?
First published in 1843, I’m sure most people know the story of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol already, but for those that have miraculously never had the pleasure, here goes... The tale centers on a cold-hearted miser named Ebenezer Scrooge, who works in a counting house, and has become bitter and twisted over the course of his life (and especially mean-spirited at Christmas time). One Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, weighed down with overwhelming lengths of chains that were forged thanks to his former life of cruelty and selfishness. He warns Scrooge that a similar fate awaits him if he does not recognise the error of his ways and changes his nature to one of kindness and compassion. Marley also serves as a herald for three spirits that will haunt Scrooge that night: The Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. These spirits show Scrooge shadows of the past, present, and future in an attempt to melt his icy heart so that he may demonstrate acts of love and a generosity of spirit to those in need. A Christmas Carol is the epitome of the redemption story, with a ghostly twist.
Who’s starring in it?
The Broadway premiere of this new stage adaptation is led by Campbell Scott in the titular role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Mr. Scott is widely known for his TV role as Mark Usher on the hit Netflix series “House of Cards,” as well as his other television roles of Boris Kuester von Jurgens-Ratenicz on USA Network’s “Royal Pains,” Joseph Tobin on FX’s “Damages,” and Stanley Austen on AMC’s “Dietland.” His co-stars include two-time Tony Award winner Andrea Martin (as The Ghost of Christmas Past) and Tony Award winner LaChanze (as The Ghost of Christmas Present and Mrs. Fezziwig). Ms. Martin is a Broadway veteran, loved by fans for her celebrated turns in the likes of My Favorite Year, Oklahoma!, Young Frankenstein, and Pippin to name just a few. She’s also enjoyed an acclaimed career on screen, particularly during her years with “SCTV” and, more recently, “Great News,” as well as her appearances in the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” movie franchize and the 2001 film adaptation of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” LaChanze, for her part, will always remain in the hearts of Broadway aficionados for originating the roles of Ti Moune in Once on This Island and Celie in The Color Purple.
What’s special about this production?
From the moment you enter the Lyceum Theatre you feel immersed in Dickensian London as actors and musicians roam the auditorium, handing out free cookies and clementines to the audience and serenading us with festive music. All the while, Rob Howell’s striking set design has ensured a multitude of old-fashioned lanterns that hang from the rafters of the ceiling, the mezzanine, the balcony and the stage itself, glowing warmly over the audience’s heads. The final scenes of the play, which I will not spoil here, also turn up the immersive nature of the production to the top of the dial. But before we get there, Scrooge’s tale of redemption is told by the entire ensemble, who frequently break the fourth wall and even speak out simultaneously as our guides and narrators of this dark, yet accessible-for-all adaptation. Director Matthew Warchus has also utilized the space afforded him ingeniously – and I do mean all the space. Actors intermittently appear from the balcony or the aisles in the orchestra, again adding to the immersive feel of the production. And if you don’t feel you're a part of the telling by this point, the snowfall in the auditorium towards the end of the play will certainly seal the deal. In addition, it's always encouraging to see a racially diverse cast in a play with roles traditionally played solely by caucasian actors and it is truly a gift to see a young, disabled actor cast in the role of Tiny Tim (the wonderful Sebastian Ortiz at the performance I attended).
It would also be amiss of me not to mention the rousing and at times beautifully melancholy music that makes up a huge part of the appeal of this production. Arranged by Christopher Nightingale and directed by Michael Gacetta, the music is instantly familiar and yet the keen ear will appreciate its subtle originality. Boasting such classic carols as “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and “Christ is Born in Bethlehem,” among many others, A Christmas Carol relentlessly beats the Humbug out of all of us over the course of 2 hours and 15 minutes, until we simply have no other choice but to leave the Lyceum Theatre merry and ready to celebrate the holidays!
Who would we recommend it to?
Despite its ghostly elements, A Christmas Carol leans more towards a family-friendly piece of theatre and so we would recommend this show for all families with children of the ages 6 and above this holiday season. Alternatively, why not treat the grandparents to this timeless classic and create some magical Christmas memories with your nearest and dearest?
A Christmas Carol Tickets are available now for performances through January 5, 2020.
(Photos by Joan Marcus)