A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ Christmas tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s miserly life and ultimate redemption, opened at McCarter Theatre on Friday and will run through Dec. 28. The audience’s standing ovation on opening night was a testament to a performance that breathes new life into all too familiar characters.
It can be difficult to perform the same show year after year, especially a story so familiar that most need not buy tickets to know its characters and message. Under the direction of Michael Unger, McCarter’s cast of 40 actors, dancers and singers manages to avoid the trap of redundancy or boredom.
Broadway veteran Graeme Malcolm leads the cast as Scrooge, an actor who brings as much humor and vulnerability to the role as he does the requisite dour moodiness, periodically punctuated with his signature “Bah Humbug” line.
Surrounded by holiday cheer on streets of London in an opening scene, Scrooge scares happy children and barks at women seeking handouts for the less fortunate. Irked that he must not only give his employee Bob Crachit the day off for Christmas but also pay him his measly salary, he mutters, “My generosity has always been my weakness.”
Scrooge’s smug demeanor begins to evaporate as he received unexpected messages and is soon visited by three ghosts. Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future take Scrooge back to his childhood and forward through time, giving the audience an understanding of what led Scrooge to become the man he is. These scenes are marked by unexpected twists and turns. There are characters who seem to appear from nowhere, ghosts who sprinkle glitter, even occasions where Scrooge himself flies into the air or seems to dive down into the stage floor.
The supporting cast is captivating, particularly John Ahlin as Scrooge’s former boss Mr. Fezziwig, David Kenner as a young Scrooge, Natalie Venetia Belcon as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Fourteen area children share the stage with trained actors in this year’s performance, and highlights include standout performances by Kieran McKenna as Crachit’s son Tiny Tim and Noah Hinsdale, a butcher delivery boy who delivers a scene stealing performance near the end of the show.
Each scene reveals an exquisite set design by Ming Cho Lee, be it the grimy streets of 1843 London, Scrooge’s home, his office, even the home of his long-suffering employee, Bob Crachit.
This season’s production will mark the 200th performance in the show for James Ludwig, as well as the 100th performances for Justin Blanchard, Michele Tauber, Price Waldman, and young ensemble member Annika Goldman of Princeton.
The performance features adaptation by David Thompson, original music and lyrics by Michael Starobin, choreography by Rob Ashford and costume design by Jess Goldstein. Tickets start at $20 and may be purchased by calling (609) 258-2787 or online at www.mccarter.org