A snowy Princeton afternoon may be the most festive of conditions in which to see the great McCarter Theatre holiday tradition of A Christmas Carol. Add to that a host of Dickensian characters greeting you as step through the threshold and the lobby, and you have an undeniably charming Yuletide experience. Despite Ebenezer Scrooge’s hatred of good-will and charity, this production warms the heart and evokes the inherent eeriness in Charles Dickens’ famous ghost story aimed at one man’s Christmas reclamation.
Director Adam Immerwahr has a knack for bringing familiar stories back to life. Much like his recent McCarter production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, his reimagined Christmas Carol is an exciting ride despite being one of the most often revisited pieces of literature adapted for the screen or stage. Framed by flickering candlelight, his production evokes a true feeling of mystery, with a potential ghost lurking around any corner. With scenic design by Daniel Ostling and lighting design by Lap Chi Chu, the famous settings of Scrooge’s London evaporate and melt into each other as he travels through the stages of his life with the famous spirits of Christmas.
The adaptation of Dickens’ timeless tale by David Thompson is not as loyal to the original text as some may be, but excels in its thorough backstory for Scrooge’s current condition. After years of losing his friends, fiancé, and business partner on or around Christmas Eve, it’s almost easy to understand his grumbling towards the holiday itself. What gets Scrooge into trouble in the end, though, is his lack of feeling for those around him.
Played with unending humanity by Greg Wood, one of the region’s greatest actors, McCarter’s Scrooge avoids caricature and the common overblown humbuggery. The bahs and humbugs are present of course, but they are infused with Scrooge’s circumstances and long journey. Wood’s Scrooge has consciously constructed a wall to keep out the needs of others and is heartless towards those who show him any small generosity in the holiday season.
There is plenty to be learned from this Christmas Carol’s pre-transformation Scrooge, especially in the current political climate. His wish for London’s poor to be condemned to prisons and workhouses resonates sharply, and his lack of compassion for everyone with less than him sends a chill up the spine. Most poignant is Scrooge’s ever-present conviction that everyone in the world is out to steal from him, which makes him all the less willing to share anything of himself. Marley warns, “I wear the chain I forged in life,” while Scrooge continues to forge his own spiritual bondage with his constant dismissal of those in need. That is, until the spirits’ interventions.
But as much as we may need a life-changing lesson, the joy abounds in Immerwahr’s production as well. With music by the late composer Michael Friedman and choreography by Lorin Latarro, the raucous party scenes lift the soul out of any darkness. These various celebrations also allow the cast’s diversity to shine – actors of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, and types make up the cast and the community ensemble with an effortless flair throughout the stage, aisles, and lobby.
The cast itself is packed with regional and Broadway talent, most notably featuring two gorgeous ghosts (Mimi B. Francis as Present and Adeline Edwards as Past) and the always-hilarious Fezziwigs (Thom Sesma and Anne L. Nathan). As Scrooge’s poor, put-upon clerk, Bob Cratchit, Jon Norman Schneider is affable and gracious alongside the warmly radiant Jessica Bedford as Mrs. Cratchit. Other standouts include Jamila Sabares-Klemm as an effervescent Lily and Sue Jin Song as Scrooge’s humble charwoman Mrs. Dilber. Linda Cho’s costume design blends the worlds of Christmas past, present, and future with a sparkly opulence, and Darron L. West designs a soundscape that evokes every corner of London and the spectral spaces in between.
Filled with magic effects, glitz, and humanity, McCarter’s A Christmas Carol stands out as an interpretation of a common tale uncommonly brought to life. A family-friendly and all around delightful treat for this holiday season, A Christmas Carol remains a spooky yet redemptive tale of hope and generosity, not only at Christmas, but throughout the whole year.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission.