A Christmas Carol Brings Artistry to Broadway's Holiday Season
Jack Thorne adapts the Charles Dickens tale for a new production at the Lyceum Theatre, starring Campbell Scott.
It's rare for New York City to offer theatrical holiday fare that doesn't involve a cast of manically spirited characters doused in glitter. Christmastime is tourism time and that means high-kicking Rockettes, Madison Square Garden megamusicals, and maybe, if you're lucky, a Russian clown caught in an indoor blizzard. A Christmas Carol's quiet subversion of that holiday hysteria is precisely what makes it such a blessing for everyone this yuletide season.
Yes, it is still A Christmas Carol, that overdone property that has become a dusty staple of many a regional theater and has had a million iterations, from the questionable Vanessa Williams vehicle A Diva's Christmas Carol to the unparalleled Muppet version. But Jack Thorne (Tony-winning playwright of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) has blended just enough of the familiar Charles Dickens text with reimagined adaptation to make watching this rendering feel as new as a gift on Christmas morning and as cozy as the tea you sip while unwrapping it.
Campbell Scott, who stars as Ebenezer Scrooge, cuts a comfortingly familiar figure as well. Underneath a more unruly shock of white hair, glimmers of his father George C. Scott's grimace and gruff rejoinders as Scrooge in the classic 1984 TV movie shine through this Scott's performance (a lovely built-in homage to the story's comments on personal legacy). Luckily, the father and son are different-enough performers — and Thorne's version of the Dickens tale takes the central character on a different-enough journey — to sufficiently distinguish one Scrooge from the other.
In this version (which mercifully chugs right through the typically lengthy scene spent watching Scrooge eating gruel in his nightgown), it doesn't take all three spectral visitations to break through Ebenezer's steely exterior. As performed by Scott, his humanity is less a revelation and more a tragically neglected fact, which we get to see right away in his trip back to youth, accompanied by the always delightful Andrea Martin as the Ghost of Christmas Past (Rob Howell costumes his ghosts in metaphorically pertinent patchwork dresses with the silhouette of 19th-century British fashions).
Dan Piering performs portions as Young Ebenezer (sharing the stage with Rachel Prather, who plays Ebenezer's beloved sister Fan). But director Matthew Warchus makes the robust choice to have Scott inhabit most of these memories himself — actively linking his past and present identities rather than having the miser he's become gaze from afar upon a past self. It's here that we see Scrooge's relationship with poverty develop as his relationship with his abusive, alcoholic father (played by Chris Hoch) deteriorates. By the time Ebenezer meets his match in Belle (played sharply by Sarah Hunt), and vows to build a fortune worthy of her affection, the trajectory of his future is laid out with more clarity than I've seen in any other dramatization of this well-known tale.
Thorne and Warchus have made a Christmas Carol that looks and feels Dickensian with its dark color scheme and abundance of London fog. Howell's set, filled with lanterns that both crowd the stage and the sky (an awe-inspiring constellation of light by Hugh Vanstone), is stunning in its simple manner of conveying time and place, while a theatrical chorus narrates the tale like we're sitting around a fire being read a book at bedtime (Simon Baker's sound design is beautifully crafted throughout).
On its surface, the production leans toward the traditional, but many of the classic "ghost story-esque" moments are excised in favor of grounded sincerity. No longer does the mere vision of his own tombstone reform this heartless money lender, nor is the specter that shows Scrooge his grim future a shrouded, faceless creature (you'll see for yourself who it is instead). Premature death isn't the looming threat. A life without love — romantic, familial, or otherwise — is what scares him straight. And with Dashiell Eaves's sympathetic but not saccharine rendition of Bob Cratchit setting the example of what a life lived with love looks like, it's no wonder Scrooge decides to change his ways (Sebastian Ortiz played Tiny Tim at my performance, and you could feel the entire audience melt as he walked onstage; Jai Ram Srinivasan plays him at other performances).
Add to that some festive caroling (featuring the showstopping voice of LaChanze, who plays a fiery Ghost of Christmas Present), Christmas revelry (movement by Lizzi Gee), and the sight of Andrea Martin playing the handbells, and you've got a life-affirming holiday show that's worth its weight in gold.