The tremendous energy and talent of the cast makes this show worthwhile
New Brunswick’s Crossroads Theatre Company takes over the large Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theatre of the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center to produce A Christmas Carol as its holiday offering. The musical, with a score by composer Alan Menkin (Beauty and the Beast) and lyricist Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Once on This Island) with book by Ms. Ahrens and the late Mike Ockrent (1946-1999), was the holiday offering for ten seasons at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden.
The show follows closely the plot of the Dickens tale. Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (Count Stovall) makes life miserable for his underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit (Michael Isaac) and others in Victorian London. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is haunted by the ghost of his late partner, Jacob Marley (Matt Provencal). Marley tells Scrooge that, to escape a tortured punishment after death, he will be visited by three spirits: those of Christmas Past (Justine Rappaport), Christmas Present (Dwayne Clark), and Christmas Future (Arisa Odaka). The three spirits in turn force Scrooge to re-examine his life: his lonely childhood; his beloved sister Fan (Arianna Chauhan) who dies giving birth to a son, Fred (Micah Jeremiah Mims); the loss of his one love, Emily Fezziwig (Tavia Riveé); the misery of the Cratchit family, especially the invalid Tiny Tim (Kaylie Mariah Batista); cutting off relations with Fred after the young man marries for love; and the aftermath of his own death.
The best parts of the show are its book and score, and the tremendous energy and talent of the cast. Director Marshall Jones III, the Producing Artistic Director of Crossroads, gets fine performances from his actors. In particular, Count Stovall, as Scrooge, brings dourness to the character that is overlooked in other productions. He is not a knockout as a singer, but speak-sings several songs, fitting both the character and the story. Scrooge, a man with no music in his heart, should not sing until his transformation at the very end. The show’s choreography, by Camille Moten, is solid and lively, and Dr. Mesia Austin leads an orchestra, which is equal to those at Paper Mill Playhouse.
Unfortunately, there are some problems with this production. First and foremost, the stage at the Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theatre is too large for the cast. Too often, scenes and numbers that should fill the stage with people look sparse, which particularly hurts the production numbers. Had the smaller Arthur Laurents Theatre been available, its smaller stage would have been a better fit. Lighting cues and follow spotlighting at the performance I attended were sloppy. And in some of the chorus numbers, muddy singing made Lynn Ahrens’ lovely lyrics get lost.
This musical version of A Christmas Carol is a solid show and heart-warming family entertainment. This production, put on by the Crossroads Theatre Company, has its flaws, but they are not in the acting, direction, or choreography. While I cannot wholeheartedly recommend this production based on the performance I saw, I do not think it would be a waste of time or money to visit the Victorian London conjured up by this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol before its too-brief run comes to an end.
A Christmas Carol is presented by the Crossroads Theatre Company in the Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theatre at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center through December 15, 2019. For tickets and more information, visit crossroadstheatrecompany.org.