Who knew that “A Christmas Carol” could be so dangerous!
The assaults begin even before the first line of dialogue in the new, charming if overlong, and extraordinarily well-designed Broadway production of Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic, starring Campbell Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge and Andrea Martin and LaChanze as Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. Cast members on the stage dressed as 19th century English blokes and birds throw clementines and cookies to (at?) the audience…vigorously.
“I’m suing,” said somebody sitting behind me, in a straight-faced impersonation of Scrooge, after he was hit by one of the packages of chocolate chips. “Are you an attorney?”
Later, at a climactic moment in the story, an entire Christmas dinner comes shooting down from the mezzanine, piece by piece. Long links of sausages dropped directly onto audience laps, and we were urged to pass them onto the stage, where the spectacular feast was assembled.
These enlivening assaults by food were part of the production’s wondrous stagecraft, which also features a dark set warmly lit by lanterns and graced by bells, and two separate snow storms – which looked and felt like real snow (in contrast to the paper blizzard at Slava’s Snowshow.) There are also a dozen Christmas carols. The first song is worked into the narrative humorously:
Carol singers who show up at Scrooge’s door: oh tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy
Scrooge: Oh Christ
Carol singers: God rest ye merry gentlemen Let nothing you dismay
Scrooge: You dismay me.
The last carol — Silent Night, performed entirely by handbells held by the cast – concludes the show and is one of the two most moving moments in it.
The other moment, surprisingly moving, involves Tiny Tim, portrayed refreshingly by one of two young boys who have disabilities (I saw it with Sebastian Ortiz.) He hugs Scrooge and says “God Bless Us Every One.”
Originally produced by the Old Vic in England, this Christmas Carol is a fairly faithful adaptation of the story of a miser’s redemption after a nightmarish visit by several ghosts. All the changes to the tale are slight and most are beneficial, especially the effort at an inclusive cast: All three ghosts, for example, are women. The whole enterprise reflects the trademark strengths of its creative team — written by Jack Thorne, the playwright of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and directed by Michael Warchus, whose extensive Broadway credits include “Ghost The Musical,” “Matilda The Musical” and “Groundhog Day.” The cast narrates as a group story theater style, divvying up the lines. One scene is conducted between a performer in a box seat and another in the mezzanine!
If I may be a (pre-redeemed) Scrooge for a moment: The enticing promise of the stars in the cast doesn’t get fulfilled: Andrea Martin plays it straight, and LaChanze doesn’t get any solos. At two hours over two acts (plus a 15 minute intermission), this A Christmas Carol feels too long. A shorter, one-act version with a smaller dose of dark narrative could have avoided an unfortunate mid-story tilt toward the soporific. It’s also a bit rich to be offering a lesson against avarice and yet charge up to $179 a ticket. With so many theaters all over the city offering the same story (at far less cost), the Broadway production is not a must-see.
But there’s that real snow, and the warm lanterns, and those bells… and the uplifting message that Scrooge can finally hear: “Change is within all of us. It’s why life is such a thrill.”
A Christmas Carol
Ethel Barrymore Theater
Adapted by Jack Thorne from Charles Dickens.
Directed by Matthew Warchus.
Set and costume design by Rob Howell, lighting design by Hugh Vanstone, sound design by Simon Baker, composed, orchestrated and arranged by Christopher Nightingale, movement by Lizzi Gee.
Cast: Campbell Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge, Andrea Martin as Ghost of Christmas Past, and LaChanze as Ghost of Christmas Present/Mrs. Fezziwig.
Erica Dorfler as Mrs. Cratchit, Dashiell Eaves as Bob Cratchit, Hannah Elless as Jess, Brandon Gill as Fred, Evan Harrington as Fezziwig, Chris Hoch as Father/Marley, Sarah Hunt as Belle, Matthew Labanca as Nicholas, Alex Nee as Ferdy, Dan Piering as Young Ebenezer/George, and Rachel Prather as Little Fan. Sebastian Ortiz and Jai Ram Srinivasan share the role of Tiny Tim.
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes (including one intermission)
Tickets: $49 to $179
A Christmas Carol is on stage through January 5, 2020.