By Vicki Weisfeld
This is the third season for McCarter Theatre Center’s most recent version of A Christmas Carol, its delightful return to Christmas in the Age of Dickens. Opening night was December 7, and this sparkler of a show, based on playwright David Thompson’s adaptation and directed by Adam Immerwahr, runs through December 29.
Immerwahr’s intent when he took on this holiday staple was to explore how Scrooge’s redemption “isn’t just the redemption of one man . . . when a person changes, it can transform an entire community.” His version is filled with songs from what Immerwahr calls “the treasure trove of terrific Christmas music of Dickens’s era.” Even some carols not used explicitly have “become part of the underscoring of the play,” whose music was composed by the late Obie-award winning composer Michael Friedman.
The show exemplifies McCarter’s goal of celebrating creativity, community, and diversity in the presence on stage—and before the curtain, in the lobby and theater aisles—of a cheerful community ensemble of 26 adults and a dozen children. The entire audience is involved in singing the opening carol, and probably no one in the audience avoided beaming and foot-tapping during the Fezziwigs’ Christmas party, with its exuberant, full-cast dance.
Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Greg Wood) has never said “Bah! Humbug!” with more feeling, Bob Cratchit (Jon Norman Schneider) has never been more patiently put-upon, and the rest of the cast, mostly playing multiple parts, is as lively as ever, including: Fred/Undertaker (Billy Finn), Lily/Belle (Kristin Villanueva), Mrs. Dilber (Sue Jin Song), Fan/Miss Kate (Tess Ammerman), Solicitor Matthew/Young Scrooge (Zeke Edmonds), Solicitor David/Mr. Fezziwig (Steven Rattazzi), Mrs. Cratchit (Sharina Martin), and Mrs. Fezziwig/Lady Char/Laundress (Anne L. Nathan). Dickens’s memorable characters are brought wonderfully to life by them all.
The familiar tale of a miser’s comeuppance is all there. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Zahra Lohoue) reminds him how he gave up his youthful opportunities for happiness in order to pursue wealth; the Ghost of Christmas Present (Adele Batchelder) shows him how others, especially the Cratchits, live; and the Ghost of Christmas Future (Paul Deo, Jr.) presents a frightening scenario that causes him to vow to change. Old Marley’s ghost (Frank X) is particularly effective and delivers my favorite line, the sententious “I wear the chains I forged in life. I made it link by link and yard by yard.” The early dark scenes change to light as Scrooge wakes Christmas morning a reformed man.
Underscoring the production’s goal of community engagement is the scheduling of a sensory-sensitive relaxed matinee performance on December 28, to enable a wider range of people to enjoy a live performance.
Production credits to Daniel Ostling (set design); Michael Friedman (composer); Charles Sundquist (musical direction); Darron L. West (sound design); Lorin Latarro (choreography); Linda Cho (costumes); Lap Chi Chu (lighting); Jeremy Chernick (special effects); Susan Finch (dialect coach); Carissa Thorlakson (wig design); and Cris Frisco (music director). Jessica Bedford is the associate director and Greer Gisy the choreography supervisor.
For tickets, call the box office at 609-258-2787 or visit the box office online.