“A Christmas Carol”: Dickens’ masterpiece returns to brighten the season

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"A Christmas Carol" at McCarter Theatre photo by T. Charles Erickson

It’s a tradition of the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton to present A Christmas Carol as its holiday offering, and it’s as welcome an event as the Rockefeller Center tree lighting or Santa Claus’ appearance at the end of Macy’s parade. This stage adaptation by David Thompson with music by Michael Friedman made its debut last year, and I’m pleased to report it’s still a fresh and joyous addition to the holiday season.

"A Christmas Carol" at McCarter Theatre photo by T.  Charles Erickson
“A Christmas Carol” at McCarter Theatre photo by T. Charles Erickson

As I said in my review last year, Thompson’s book combines the familiar story with some appropriate new changes to the plot. For example, in an early scene, Scrooge first has a startled look when he A Christmas Carol ensemble 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.

“A Christmas Carol” with Greg Wood, in center, at McCarter Theatre photo by T. Charles Erickson

Director Adam Immerwahr again leads a mixed cast of seasoned professionals and talented amateurs through this tale of Victorian London, headed up by Greg Wood’s return as Ebenezer Scrooge. Also appearing from last year’s cast are Jamila Sabares-Klemm (Belle/Lily), Jessica Bedford (Mrs. Cratchit), Anne L. Nathan (Mrs. Fezziwig), Mimi B. Francis (Christmas Present), and Sue Jin Song (Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge’s housekeeper). Joining them are production newcomers Jon Norman Schneider (Bob Cratchit), Thom Sesma (Mr. Fezziwig), Zeke Edmonds (Young Scrooge), Christopher Livingston (Young Marley/Christmas Future), and Adeline Edwards (Christmas Past). Lorin Latarro again serves as the show’s choreographer, with her exuberant production number at the Fezziwigs’ Christmas party being one of the show’s highlights.

"A Christmas Carol" at McCarter Theatre photo by T.  Charles Erickson
“A Christmas Carol” at McCarter Theatre photo by T. Charles Erickson

McCarter’s design team has once again turned the stage of the Matthews Theatre into a warm, enveloping Victorian London that is that land of hidden magic demanded by A Christmas Carol. 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 and the stage into a gliding, turning, even exploding wonderland; lighting designer Lap Chi Chu, taking us from the bright whiteness of a long-ago Christmas to the midnight chill of a graveyard; and special effects designer Jeremy Chernick, whose clever and often surprising work I will not list here for fear of spoiling the wonder. Linda Cho’s costume designs, ranging over two decades of the 1880’s, are still wondrous.

The show’s last line is Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, every one.” McCarter has again blessed us with this 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 31, 2017. For tickets and information, visit mccarter.org.