A Christmas Carol: A new setting of an old gem

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Sue Jin Song and Frank X. in rehearsals for
Sue Jin Song and Frank X. in rehearsals for " A Christmas Carol. Photo by Matt Pilsner

Ever since 1846, when Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was written, this Christmas Eve’s ghost story has been a beloved staple of the holiday season. The McCarter Theatre Center continues a decades-long tradition of presenting A Christmas Carol as their holiday offering, this year in a magical new adaptation by David Thompson.

"A Christmas Carol ensemble
“A Christmas Carol ensemble

Thompson’s book combines the familiar story with traditional carols, new incidental music by Michael Friedman, and some appropriate new changes to the plot. For example, in an early scene, Scrooge first has a startled look when he meets his nephew Fred’s wife, Lily. We learn later that the same actress also plays Belle, the young Scrooge’s lost love. In another scene, set in a Christmas Eve in the past, we learn the reason for the Fezziwigs’ decline into poverty. These and other new twists in the tale flow naturally within the original storyline, adding depth to both the plot and the character portrayals. The contributions of composer Friedman (best known for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) also fit naturally into the production’s flow, appropriately seasonal yet never obtrusive.

Led by Greg Wood in a perfect portrayal as Ebenezer Scrooge, convincing from start to finish, the cast is uniformly excellent. To single out just a few performers of merit: Jamila Sabares-Klemm in the dual roles of Belle and Lily, luminous in showing the generosity of heart of young Victorian ladies in love; Mimi Francis as the boisterous yet no-nonsense Ghost of Christmas Present; Warner Miller’s Bob Cratchit, paired with Jessica Bedford as his wife, poor of purse yet rich in familial love; and the exuberant Lance Roberts and Anne L. Nathan as the Fezziwigs, generous in the spirit of Christmas yet with cores of steel, especially in a Christmas-past showdown with the budding partnership of Scrooge & Marley. Credit also needs to be given to the members of the Community Ensemble, a group chosen by audition from among members of the Princeton area community, who create the background life of 1843 London so essential in telling the story. Director Adam Immerwahr skillfully guides his mixed cast of seasoned professionals and talented amateurs into a troupe capable of handling the blend of everyday and the supernatural, while Lorin Latarro’s choreography distills the joy of the season into dances both lively and romantic.

McCarter’s design team has turned the stage of the Matthews Theatre into a warm, enveloping Victorian London that is also a land of the mystical as A Christmas Carol demands. The wielders of such magic art are set designer Daniel Ostling, turning the proscenium arch into the walls and roof of a house of the era; lighting designer Lap Chi Chu; and sound designer Darron I. West. The costume design, covering fashions and societal status of roughly two decades of the 1800’s, is a wondrous piece of work by Linda Cho. Last but not least, the special effects of Jeremy Chernick are clever and surprising, so much so that I won’t spoil the wonder by listing them.

The show’s last line is Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, every one.” McCarter has blessed us with this new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ beloved A Christmas Carol. Give yourself and those you love an early gift by seeing this show before its all-too-short engagement is over.

A Christmas Carol is presented by the McCarter Theatre Center at the Matthews Theatre on the campus of Princeton University through December 31st. For tickets and information, visit www.mccarter.org.