Audience members headed to the Lyceum Theater in New York City for A Christmas Carol should beware: Your holiday spirit is about to be tested. But by story’s end, it’ll shine all the brighter for it.
The Charles Dickens classic, first published in 1843, has been adapted for film, television, and stage countless times. Muppets tried it, Mickey Mouse turned his ears to the tale, Patrick Stewart performed a one-man reading of the story on the West End stage, and now Tony Award-winning playwright Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) has brought it to Broadway, two years after he penned a new adaptation that debuted in London.
The Broadway limited run, premiering Nov. 20, casts Campbell Scott (The Sheltering Sky, House of Cards, Damages) as the Christmas-hating Ebenezer Scrooge, while Tony winner and comedic legend Andrea Martin (My Favorite Year, Pippin) glides into the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past and LaChanze, yet another Tony Award recipient, serves up sass as the Ghost of Christmas Present. In a move in line with increased efforts for better representation in the arts, two young disabled actors play Tiny Tim, Sebastian Ortiz and Jai Ram Srinivasan, both of whom have cerebral palsy. Dashiell Eaves (The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Sound of Music) is particularly memorable as the ever-optimistic Bob Cratchit, and the rest of the ensemble captivates with powerful, often musical, performances. The production subtly incorporates literal Christmas carols throughout, with the cast singing and sometimes playing instruments — most notably handbells — for a serene, film-score-like effect.
Thorne’s Carol is undoubtedly a tale of two very distinct halves. Anyone familiar with Dickens’s novel knows that this self-described “Christmas nightmare” has a happy ending: The elderly, bah-humbugging miser — having been visited by three spirits from his past, present, and future — undergoes a euphoric epiphany and transforms into sweet, generous, reformed soul who skips around the stage. You might therefore expect the play’s tone to shift from the dreary to the delightful, but perhaps not quite as steeply as it does. Quite suddenly, the lights are up and you find yourself an active participant in a Christmas Day feast (will someone PLEASE pass those brussel sprouts?) as Scrooge’s merry redemption arc plays out.
The staging also reflects the change in Scrooge’s demeanor. Throughout the show, the staging is sparse but cinematic. Hundreds of lanterns hang from the theater’s rafters as others lie heaped up on the sides of the stage. In the center, Scrooge is often surrounded on four sides by metal door frames — a visual metaphor for the walls he’s constructed around his heart. And when the lights come up in Act 2, your mood instantly brightens to match them. Similarly, the performance of “See Amid the Winter’s Snow” will raise every hair on your arms — and no, the ghosts aren’t present this time. Finally, what’s a Christmas story without snow, right? (It’s a soapy, foamy substance in reality, but that’s not the reason your eyes will sting with tears.) Ah, the joys of an interactive theater experience!
Despite its age, the story still feels timely in 2019. Scrooge learns to look out at the community around him and consider how he might help those in need, rather than serve his own wants. That’s a message we could all do with remembering in today’s climate (where you might easily find yourself wishing some ghosts would visit our president to haunt some empathy and good will into him). Yes, the play may start off pretty bleak, but by the end, the frantic festiveness of Scott’s Scrooge is so infectious that you leave the theater with a heart so full of joy and light, you’ve all but forgotten the cold darkness of its first half. Sometimes in life you’ve gotta sit through the grim to get to the giddy — probably not a bad mantra to keep in mind over the holidays, eh?
A Christmas Carol is playing at the Lyceum Theatre now, for eight weeks only. (There are also free cookies and oranges!)