Theatre Review by Howard Miller - November 20, 2019
A Christmas Carol. Adapted by Jack Thorne. Directed by Matthew Warchus. Set and costume design by Rob Howell. Lighting design by Hugh Vanstone. Sound design by Simon Baker. Composer, orchestrator, and arranger Christopher Nightingale. Movement by Lizzi Gee. Music coordinator Howard Jones. Wigs, hair, and makeup design by Campbell Young Associates. US associate director Thomas Caruso. Music director Michael Gacetta. Associate musical supervisor Will Stuart. Voice and dialect director Andrew Wade. Cast: Campbell Scott, Andrea Martin, LaChanze, Erica Dorfler, Dashiell Eaves, Hannah Elless, Brandon Gill, Evan Harrington, Chris Hoch, Sarah Hunt, Matthew LaBanca, Alex Nee, Sebastian Ortiz, Dan Piering, and Rachel Prather.
Thorne's interpretation, under Matthew Warchus's direction, is darker, more analytical and psychologically probing than we have become accustomed to. As a result, it is also less emotionally rewarding as well. And not even a display of outlandishness and seasonal joy that subsumes the last quarter of the evening can provide a much needed balance. The transition from darkness to light is simply too abrupt.
The initial presentment of Scrooge (Campbell Scott, looking quite a bit like his father, actor George C. Scott, who played Scrooge in an exceptionally fine television production in 1984), is that of a man who is mean-spirited and curmudgeonly through and through. His treatment of his clerk Bob Cratchit (Dashiell Eaves), his nephew Fred (Brandon Gill), and the carolers who foolishly deign to sing outside the door to his business, is as sour and harsh as you'll find in anyone you'd assiduously strive to avoid. Dickens's familiar phrases are still there, from "Bah, humbug!" to "If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." But coming out of Mr. Scott's mouth, there isn't the least bit of hyperbole attached to these and similar observations that have been added to the script. This Scrooge means every word.
There is no question but that this is Scrooge's story in every respect. The ghosts who are tasked at helping him recover his humanity are rendered more as quiet spiritual guides than as powerful otherworldly visitors. Two popular and inordinately
Accordingly, the first two spirits barely register with Scrooge, and he is little affected by what he sees of his past and of the present. It is only through his interaction with the third ghost, whose persona may be Thorne's smartest contribution to this rendition of the story (and therefore I'll not reveal how he handles it), that Scrooge's eyes and heart open up at last.
I'm not suggesting the need to offer up the same level of stage magic as Thorne's other fantasy play on Broadway, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but give us something more, please. You don't have to sell us on A Christmas Carol. We go in ready and willing to be taken on a journey that will touch our hearts and leave us feeling at least a little more hopeful about the world. While this production attempts to make that transformation toward the end, the change in tone, when it comes, is jarring and unearned. What we want is a miraculous and gradual transformation. What we get is the equivalent of a psychotherapist's couch followed by celebration.
There are some very good design elements, including the widespread and sometimes quite clever use of lanterns, sound effects, choral singing, handbells, and original toe-tapping music. Yet, somehow, these additions feel outside of the story, as if they were created separately and then jammed into place.
The cast do their best to connect with the audience, handing out clementines and cookies pre-show and giving it their all within the generally constrained and narration-heavy production. Special kudos to two who manage to break through and tear at the old heartstrings, Rachel Prather as Scrooge's sister Fan and, in the performance I attended, Sebastian Ortiz as Tiny Tim. Both embody what is generally missing: the spirit, heart, and soul of Charles Dickens.