Review of A Christmas Carol, starring Campbell Scott, on Broadway

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    November 20, 2019
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    This version of A Christmas Carol at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway, adapted by Jack Thorne and directed by Matthew Warchus, is a nifty bit of business. An unusual take on Charles Dickens' story, it is Redemption à la Mode. And it works.

    The story of Scrooge is known so well that the name itself means the meanest of the mean. Closed off from love, alone and daring anyone to approach with an outstretched appendage. This particular Ebenezer Scrooge (Campbell Scott), in addition to being mean, is also a little mad. A little crazy. A little paranoid. Something along the lines of a rabid dog. A little ready for some serious salvation. Because this Scrooge is inches away from taking a permanent header off the cliff of life.

    Thorne and Warchus have kept the thread of the iconic story without sticking to the traditional trimmings. The three Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future are all women, dressed in homespun rag cloth. Andrea Martin is a no-nonsense guide who prods and presses Ebenezer to pay attention to the past. LaChanze is The Ghost of Christmas Present who swirls him through the open doorways and sad hovels of the present. And the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come turns out to be the biggest twist in this new adaptation, bringing the direst most desperate warnings to Scrooge, born out of a fierce love for him.

    This Ebenezer refuses their guidance, care and mercy. This Scrooge is more Andrew Jackson than a candidate for Father Christmas. This Scrooge will not go quietly into that good night. He will roar until the spirits are forced to pull out all the stops and smite him mightily. When this Scrooge rises from his ashes he is no milk toast reformed old man. He is raw as a newborn and his path will not be predicted.

    The production design could not be simpler: four door frames flanked by hundreds of lanterns on the floor, crawling up the walls and swinging wildly from the ceiling. Scrooge is leading such a sparse life that his pillow is a handkerchief and his riches are hidden beneath floorboards. He has one threadbare suit of clothing from beginning to end.

    With almost nothing up their sleeves this nimble cast unwraps a story of redemption as if it were a 19th century confection of supreme value. Which, of course it is. From the minute you enter the theatre this company welcomes you with the simplest of gifts: a story to tell and the joy of the telling. And the joy of the singing. Their Christmas caroling alone is worth the trip. Although I haven't considered myself a religious person for years now, the sound of those carols – in four-part harmony, thank you – pops the door to my innards open every time.

    Finally, there is the matter of Tiny Tim (played by Sebastian Ortiz at the performance I attended), who is the distillation of every spirit and human in this story, who moves with great effort and who speaks so quietly we nearly hold our breath in the listening. If you are able to withstand the warmth of this production, as any New Yorker would be expected to do, this little crumpet will be your undoing as he steals your heart like so much chump change. Beware.

    (Photo by Joan Marcus)

    "Have any of the progressive presidential hopefuls still duking it out thought about working “A Christmas Carol” into their campaigns? If so, they would surely benefit from visiting the new, charmingly instructive adaptation of Charles Dickens’s evergreen of Yuletide redemption, which opened Wednesday at the Lyceum Theater. As reconceived by the playwright Jack Thorne and the director Matthew Warchus, this sprightly version of Dickens’s deathless portrait of a miser makes a pointed case for the personal benefits of redistributing wealth. God rest ye merry, fat cats: Shedding some of that cumbersome, excess cash is a surefire route to feeling good about yourself."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "This A Christmas Carol has many lovely moments and atmosphere aplenty. What it lacks, just a little, is cheer."
    Adam Feldman for Time Out New York

    "New Yorkers tend to be cynical by nature, and even during the holidays, it takes a lot to soften our tough hides. So, I have to commend the creative team behind this latest adaptation of A Christmas Carol, because as much as we've heard Dickens' classic tale through the years, it would take a very cold heart not to feel the spirit this time around."
    Roma Torre for NY1

    "Every year around the holidays, adaptations of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol surface like regurgitated eggnog at regional theaters across the country. But Jack Thorne's retelling breathes new life into the old chestnut, creating an enchanting spectacle that really is something special. Staged with an ideal balance of sentiment and showmanship by Matthew Warchus and first seen in 2017 at London's Old Vic, where he is artistic director, the immersive production is infused with period atmosphere and heart-stirring music, fostering an infectious spirit of good cheer that reaches giddy heights with the movable feast of the play's climax."
    David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

    "While the communal ending may be fun for some — and not far afield from Dickens’ one-world view — the emphasis  shifts from lessons learned to production gimmicks, including tumbling taters from the balcony and Brussels sprouts parachuted in for Scrooge’s big feast. In this version, it’s not about witnessing the redemption of a man and the retrieval of a lost soul. It’s all about the side dishes."
    Frank Rizzo for Variety