The night before Thanksgiving, my mom and I were sitting on the couch, watching the SNL Thanksgiving special.
“I keep telling people about the show we saw the other night, about how much I loved it and that they should see it. A perfect holiday show,” she offered, out of the blue.
Kerry Berry is not a huge theater fan, and I was shocked when she accepted my offer to accompany me to a performance of A Christmas Carol on Broadway. However, the beautiful production, adapted by Jack Thorne and inventively directed by Matthew Warchus, warmed Kerry’s heart and had me in tears for most of the play’s second act.
It’s a fairly straightforward production of a story I hold near and dear to my heart, and that I look forward to experiencing as many times as possible every holiday season. They don’t really mess with the tale of miserly, lonely Ebenezer Scrooge (Campbell Scott). He’s visited by the ghost of his former business partner, who warns him of eternal struggle dragging the weight of his sins around in the afterlife if he doesn’t begin to repent. He’s visited by the three ghosts who teach him a lesson, he’s changed, he promises to lead a better life, the kid yells the line, hark! the herald angels sing, and all that.
Thorne’s script is lovely, the performances are generally very good for a show that’s intended as family entertainment, and the design is, for the most part, spot-on.
So why was I crying so much?
My tears were likely the result of being overwhelmed by the show’s open-armed nostalgia and general Christmas cheer. Upon arrival at the theater, the audience is greeted by the cast caroling onstage, throwing cookies and mandarin oranges to the audience, or wandering the aisles. Notably, Ghost of Christmas Pas , Andrea Martin, and Ghost of Christmas Present, LaChanze, are there too, shaking hands and accepting praise from gays and the mothers who love them.
Disarming the audience with this contagious joy and by plying them with sweets allows the show’s opening sequence, a stunning and surprisingly gorgeous handbell overture, to pack a punch and draw the audience in and ask them to listen.
And listen we do. By its own design, the show is language-focused and Thorne mostly gets out of the way. With the exception of some odd scenes giving Scrooge some daddy issues, he’s working through on Christmas Eve on top of everything else he’s processing across the play, the play is a very good adaptation of the Dickens novella.
With this in mind, Warchus has conjured a production played on a mostly empty stage with very few effects beyond several unnecessary door frames that keep rising and falling from the stage floor. Warchus’s focus on the language keeps things moving forward, with a lot of narration underscoring brisk and efficient staging.
After the show, Kerry told me she loved the lighting. I was surprised at Kerry’s repeated mentions of the design because she is so not a theater person, but felt so welcomed in and taken care of by the production that she was able to take delight in the small elements that I normally take for granted. She was not wrong to mention Hugh Vanstone’s lighting. Hanging above the audience and above the stage are Victorian lanterns which pulse with light when a ghost comes on stage. They extend the coziness of the play’s atmosphere well into the balcony.
The play’s denouement, with Campbell Scott’s extremely handsome Scrooge (#HotScrooge) finding the kindness in that was there in his heart along, involves the whole audience in a sequence that would be way too long if it wasn’t so fun. In short, the audience is tasked with assembling a feast for Scrooge to gift the Cratchits. The holiday surprise is pulled off, and the kid says the line, and the audience claps. Then, the cast performs a handbell rendition of “Silent Night,” and I swear there was not a dry eye in the house.
The more I think about the show, and I have not stopped thinking about this show since I saw it last week, what gets me emotional still is how earnestly happy the entire cast seems to be there. During that final Christmas carol, with everyone onstage, the 13 cast members gaze out into the audience with this very specific look where you can tell that there’s nowhere else they’d rather be.
Their offstage lives in Astoria or uptown can wait, and for the two hours of the play, so can the audience’s. The show’s freedom from the bland commercialism of larger-scale Christmas entertainments infecting shows like The Radio City Christmas Spectacular or this new Cirque du Soleil show sponsored by CitiBank allows the production to sit the audience down by the fire, hand them a mug of hot chocolate or mulled wine, and tell them a wonderfully moving Christmas Carol.