[ATTENDED: December 20, 2013] A Christmas Carol
I had never seen A Christmas Carol performed. I was, of course, familiar with the story–from the original (the Patrick Stewart audiobook is amazing) and from the many, many versions of it that have been performed in cartoon and live action formats.
We took the kids as this is a holiday classic and we thought it would be fun for all of us. And we were right. Except–this version is at times quite scary and (as my son pointed out) quite loud. I didn’t find it terribly loud, although the scary bits were considerably louder than other bits. And yes, the ghosts were certainly scary. (I had actually warned him that the ghost of Christmas Future would be very scary, but it proved to not be the case, although it was really frikkin cool).
And I must say I was charmed immediately–as soon as the kids ran out on stage in period costume, singing songs and being very Christmassy, I was hooked.
We have seen a number of varied performances at various theaters–and while many had movable sets, the sets were usually moved by the actors. In this one, the sets moved as if by magic. Entire buildings trundled forth from the back, doors and trellises lowered from the ceiling and special effects were aplenty. It was amazing. And yet, at the same time, the magic in no way detracted from the story.
As I said, I know the story, but I didn’t know it exactly, so there were a number of scenes that seemed new to me that I wasn’t sure if they were in the story or not. Like the way Scrooge meets his love, like the music box, and most peculiarly, like the fact the Tiny Tim doesn’t end the story with “God Bless Us, everyone” (which Sarah noticed, although I didn’t).
But those little changes really seemed to make the play that much more powerful–there are things that really couldn’t be conveyed on stage and the additions more than made up for the minor changes to the story. Indeed, for contemporary (young) audiences, the explanation of why young Scrooge couldn’t go home with his sister is a little clearer than in the story and that music box is an excellent symbol that works perfectly onstage.
Some other changes (after doing some minor research) included changing the charity seekers to a pair of harmonious (and hilarious) women and changing the ghosts from men to three young girls (the ghosts of Christmas past) and a woman (the ghost of Christmas present). While the original ghosts are kind of creepy and stodgy (in my memory), these ghosts are fun and mischievous–they lighten scenes that are certainly heavy enough (the mischievous young girls were wonderful, and the woman was just so much fun–and sprinkled so much magic dust around that my kids delighted in picking it up afterward). I think that perhaps the only thing they could do to help audiences (especially younger ones) is to explain just how much a shilling was worth back then. The whole monetary system of 19th century England is a major mystery.
Another wonderfully light moment came from the dance. Fezziwig (my favorite character) throws a party and it is a delightful dance sequence. It is fun and a joy to watch. The actors moved wildly and fluidly and the steps that the did were such a treat–they made me wish we still did dances like that today. I also loved the way they had a young Scrooge meet his love at the dance–the way the dance moved around in circles until they met in the center, it was beautiful.
Indeed, the whole Fezziwig family was an amazing splash of comic relief–they were loud and boisterous and very fun (and I coveted Fezziwig’s jacket). There were a few splashes of comic relief which were really wonderful and helped to balance out the seriousness.
But what of the magic? The first scary moment comes early and is so surprising that my kids were genuinely scared (and Sarah and I were genuinely surprised). Then when the ghosts start appearing (check out Marley at the right) and books float up from nowhere and clothes fly around and walking sticks float in the air, it is truly spectacular. But the biggest surprises come at the end of Act I and the beginning of Act II (I’m not giving either away), just say that they used the stage to its fullest and the kids could not stop talking about it.
Michael Unger directed, and he did a great job–the cast was simply perfect And the makeup and effects were wonderful. The night we went was a special night for the cast as two performers their 100th show (which is approximately 4 years worth of performances). Graeme Malcolm has played Scrooge for four seasons and Matthew Kuenne of Princeton played Tiny Tim a few years ago and is now an older sibling. Next year he will be too old to audition for a child role (that blows my mind that he has been in this show for so long as a young child). Indeed, all of the children (especially “goose boy”) were wonderful–screaming at the site of Scrooge, dancing appropriately, and even affecting wonderful accents.
Both of my kids enjoyed the show immensely and even “got” the message. And I think they were just blown away by the spectacle. They both said they want to come back next year and see it again. And I do too.
For cast and production information, check the McCarter site and for more thorough review, please check the review at NJ.com and for more details about the cast’s 100th performances, check out this article.