“A Christmas Carol” is a perennial Xmas treat at McCarter

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Rafaella Mousa (Tiny Tim) is sitting on Joel McKinnon Miller's (Scrooge) shoulder.
A Christmas Carol: (L to R) Rafaella Mousa as Tiny Tim and Joel McKinnon Miller as Scrooge. Photo by Frank Wojciechowski
Maria Habeeb, Kenneth De Abrew, Stephen Michael Spencer, Joel McKinnon Miller are in Scrooge's office.
A Christmas Carol: (L to R) Maria Habeeb, Kenneth De Abrew, Stephen Michael Spencer, Joel McKinnon Miller. Photo by T Charles Erickson

It’s another December, and as they have in years past, the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton offers its traditional gift to area audiences — a stage adaptation of Dickens’ evergreen tale, A Christmas Carol, this year adapted and directed by Lauren Keating. Judging from the delighted reactions of the audience at the performance I attended, the familiar tale is presented with all the charm and wonder of the season.

The story is familiar to just about everyone by now. Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge vehemently opposes celebrating Christmas, alienating his nephew Fred, browbeating his sole clerk Bob Cratchit, and generally spreading gloom and foreboding among the inhabitants of London town. But his soul is in peril, and to save it comes the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley, heralding the arrival of three spirits: the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. 

Joel McKinnon Miller does a first-rate job as Scrooge, portraying a man at first resistant to change but gradually succumbing to it. He runs a gamut of emotions, from brusqueness to joy, from fear to acceptance, giving a nuanced performance throughout. Within the large cast, Kenneth De Abrew’s Bob Cratchit is MIller’s match in emotional power and range, making you see the anguish behind his determinedly optimistic facade. Gisela Chipe’s Christmas Present changes astonishingly in appearance and voice, shockingly reminding us that, indeed, Christmas Present has a lifespan of but one day. With the appearance of the spirits of Want (Brooke Ginsberg) and Ignorance (Navistha Banerji) alongside her, she creates a terrifying tableau for her exit. 

Lending fine support are Alison Cimmet as Margaret Cratchit, Greyson DeJesus as Jacob Marley, Maria Habeeb as Scrooge’s fiancee Belle Fezziwig, Polly Lee as Scrooge’s housekeeper, Mrs. Dilber, and Vilma Silva as the peddler Old Jo. Although Stephen Michael Spencer gives a good performance as the young Scrooge, his portrayal of nephew Fred seems too silly by half, like a caricature of Oscar Wilde, diminishing his counter-balance to his uncle’s attitude towards the Yuletide season.

Julie Ann Earls is talking to Joel McKinnon Miller as Scrooge.
A Christmas Carol: (L to R) Joel McKinnon Miller and Julie Ann Earls. Photo by T Charles Erickson

The London of the mid-19th Century is brought to life by McCarter’s design team. Scenic designer Daniel Ostling’s street scenes and varied interiors, with the contribution of Paul M. Kilsdonk’s lighting designs, breathe life onto the stage. As for the costumes of Linda Cho, they invoke the gamut of the classes of Victorian England as well as providing fanciful designs to bring spirits into reality.

A Christmas Carol is a beloved gift of McCarter to its audiences, appropriate for all, as warm and comforting as a woolen blanket. While after seeing five iterations of the tale here in Princeton I may skip next year’s edition, I can fully recommend you see — or see again — McCarter Theatre Center’s production of A Christmas Carol!

A Christmas Carol is presented by the McCarter Theatre Center at the Matthews Theatre in Princeton through December 24th.  For more information or to order tickets, visit mccarter.org or call 609-258-2787.

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.