A Joyous Christmas Carol on Broadway

Campbell Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge and Dashiell Eaves as Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol (Joan Marcus)
Director Matthew Warchus’s Dickens adaptation is as interested in the rewards of being generous as it is in the perils of being a miser.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE H as any story written in English in the last 300 years been told as many times as A Christmas Carol? This December alone, there’s a three-episode miniseries on FX, news has just arrived that Will Ferrell (!) and Ryan Reynolds (!!) are working on a musical version (!!!) intended for the big screen, and stage productions are playing all over the country. In New York City there’s a one-night-only concert event built around Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (December 16), A Christmas Carol in Harlem (through December 21), a one-man show starring Patrick Stewart in all roles (closing Dec. 13), not to mention a musical version, a different musical version, and one done with Czech marionettes. I even had a go at retelling the story myself, in my intergalactically acclaimed novel A Christmas Caroline. Film, stage, and Czech-marionette rights are available.

The biggest Dickens going, though, is a new Broadway production, playing at the Lyceum Theatre through January 5, imported from London’s Old Vic. It’s a thoroughly charming sort-of musical infused with traditionalism that stars Campbell Scott as old Ebenezer. It is also clearly aimed at out-of-towners, not New Yorkers, which is to say it isn’t interested in turning the story inside-out and upside-down; Scrooge isn’t “daringly reimagined” as a Republican senator, nor is Tiny Tim an illegal immigrant. This is pretty much just a normal, crowd-pleasing Christmas Carol with a few welcome tweaks, so rest easy. Also there are treats handed out to the audience.

Directed by Matthew Warchus, A Christmas Carol strikes an unusually friendly and outgoing pose, with musicians in Victorian cloaks led by a violinist playing some folksy carols while the audience finds its seats. One actor wanders around the aisles giving out clementines, another tosses bags of cookies at patrons. Throughout the show the orchestra plays charming, down-home versions of a dozen seasonal tunes and hymns — “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “Silent Night.” Scrooge’s grouchy banter with his clerk Bob Cratchit (Dashiell Eaves) and his subsequent journey into darkness and then light is staged on a single set, in two one-hour acts. Boxes piled up into furniture or placed like puzzle pieces into gaps in the stages are the main props, with dozens of small lanterns overhead creating a suitably old-timey effect. A pile of disused lanterns in the rear provides a dark backdrop, the equivalent of the skull on the desk in a still-life painting. Andrea Martin (as the Ghost of Christmas Past) and LaChanze (as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Scrooge’s old mentor Fezziwig) play comically off Scott’s bellowing grumpiness as they lead him to reconsider his various missteps. (Side note: I didn’t realize that at the same time I was getting old, Campbell Scott, the star of Singles whom I haven’t seen act in a few years, was also getting old. He doesn’t look like he needs a lot of makeup to be Scrooge, and his hair has gone white.)

There are no big surprises here, just smoothly operating narrative machinery. Scott perhaps might have made Scrooge either funnier or scarier if he wanted to make a splash, but he gets the job done. Director Warchus puts considerable effort into developing the young, pre-grumpified Scrooge (Dan Piering) as a soulful, fragile lad who was crushed by a breakup with his fiancée, Belle (Sarah Hunt). Later in the show, he emphasizes the soul-replenishing power of charity and kindness.

A major deviation from how the story is usually told is the blowout ending: I’d be giving too much away if I detailed any of the ridiculous, funny antics the cast (and the prop man) get up to in the closing minutes, but in the spirit of the season I will say that it’s quite wonderful to behold, and the audience gets to participate in the distribution of the bounty. If A Christmas Carol is about the moral peril of being a miser, this production is at least as interested in the moral reward of being generous: With abundant good cheer, the final act revels in Scrooge’s newfound holiday spirit, then revels some more, then continues reveling until the production becomes a kind of glitter bomb of holiday festivity. After two-and-a-quarter hours, it sends you back out to West 44th Street in a sprightly mood. Joy to the world, indeed.

Most Popular

Culture

Two NFL Apologies

So Drew Brees defended the American flag and all it stands for, said he didn’t agree with kneeling for the national anthem and correctly described this gesture of open disrespect as disrespect. "Is everything right with our country right now?" said the Saints' future Hall of Famer. "No, it is not. We still have ... Read More
Culture

Two NFL Apologies

So Drew Brees defended the American flag and all it stands for, said he didn’t agree with kneeling for the national anthem and correctly described this gesture of open disrespect as disrespect. "Is everything right with our country right now?" said the Saints' future Hall of Famer. "No, it is not. We still have ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Chesterton’s Cops

Conservatives are big on “Chesterton’s fence.” That’s G. K. Chesterton’s principle that you cannot reform what you do not understand, that you should not for the sake of convenience knock down a fence until you understand why it was put up in the first place. When encountering a fence in his way, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Chesterton’s Cops

Conservatives are big on “Chesterton’s fence.” That’s G. K. Chesterton’s principle that you cannot reform what you do not understand, that you should not for the sake of convenience knock down a fence until you understand why it was put up in the first place. When encountering a fence in his way, ... Read More
Media

The Media’s War on Words

I recently ran across a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer that lays out four racist words and phrases that should be banished from the English language. It begins like this: Editor’s note: Please be aware offensive terms are repeated here solely for the purpose of identifying and analyzing them honestly. ... Read More
Media

The Media’s War on Words

I recently ran across a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer that lays out four racist words and phrases that should be banished from the English language. It begins like this: Editor’s note: Please be aware offensive terms are repeated here solely for the purpose of identifying and analyzing them honestly. ... Read More
Education

Destroy the ‘Public’ Education System

‘Public” schools have been a catastrophe for the United States. This certainly isn’t an original assertion, but as we watch thousands of authoritarian brats tearing down the legacies of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, it’s more apparent than ever. State-run schools have undercut two fundamental ... Read More
Education

Destroy the ‘Public’ Education System

‘Public” schools have been a catastrophe for the United States. This certainly isn’t an original assertion, but as we watch thousands of authoritarian brats tearing down the legacies of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, it’s more apparent than ever. State-run schools have undercut two fundamental ... Read More
Culture

On the Letter

I thought it right to congratulate John MacArthur and Harper’s magazine on putting together an open letter in defense of intellectual liberty — including the liberty to make mistakes -- as a necessary component of social justice. And further congrats on assembling its broad church of signatories. MacArthur ... Read More
Culture

On the Letter

I thought it right to congratulate John MacArthur and Harper’s magazine on putting together an open letter in defense of intellectual liberty — including the liberty to make mistakes -- as a necessary component of social justice. And further congrats on assembling its broad church of signatories. MacArthur ... Read More
Media

The Unrelenting Assault on President Trump

There has never been a presidential campaign in the United States where the administration was so massively opposed by the principal media outlets as in this election. Nor, in at least a century, have the national political media so widely and thoroughly discarded the traditional criterion for journalistic ... Read More
Media

The Unrelenting Assault on President Trump

There has never been a presidential campaign in the United States where the administration was so massively opposed by the principal media outlets as in this election. Nor, in at least a century, have the national political media so widely and thoroughly discarded the traditional criterion for journalistic ... Read More