Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the December 20,
2000 edition of
U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `A Christmas Carol’
McCarter Theater’s first new production in nine years
of "A Christmas Carol" can hardly be called revisionist. Yet
in the artistic hands of director Michael Unger and set designer Ming
Cho Lee it is a more formidably realized vision of Charles Dickens’
classic story and of Victorian London than we’ve seen before.
Without sacrificing the requisite uplifting, humorous, and inspiring
elements of the favorite holiday tale, which is now darker, mustier,
and more surreal, we are now effectively transported to a very real
place and time in history. And whatever sprucing up David Thompson
has done to his very literate adaptation, with well-placed musical
moments, it is tailored to bring more respectful consideration to
the Dickens original.
The impressive scene, even as we enter the theater, affords us a look
at the tall, gray sturdy-looking office buildings that make up
financial district in 1843. The previous production’s opening moments
when a father reads a bedtime story to his child in the present day
has been removed in favor of a more ominous stage setting. And these
buildings’ brooding shapes, leaning nightmarishly over the young and
old, rich and the poor, shoppers and strollers, peddlers and bankers,
bustling about preparing for Christmas day, are certainly a mere
of the scary images yet to come.
And don’t expect to see a typically cross and crusty "Humbug!"
shouting Scrooge. As John Christopher Jones interprets the role,
a wry and vulnerable spirit very much in evidence in his immensely
gratifying interpretation. Despite the old cheapskate’s grousing and
grumbling, we get subtle glimpses of the man Scrooge might have been,
even before he is accosted in his dreams by the punishing spirits
of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. In Jones’s performance, there
isn’t a trace of caricature, but a richly developed, complex
It is Scrooge’s painful night-long transition from selfishness to
kindness, his ultimate learning of what it means to be considerate
and caring of the needs of others, that is the arc of the story. But
just as we wait for Scrooge’s change of heart, it is our concern for
the welfare and future of the other poignant and needy characters
that keeps us anxious with anticipation. And just as I found all these
matters dramatically engaging, the show was equally accessible and
compelling for my five and six-year-old guests, Parker and Shelby,
who came along to the show.
As the massive settings — the counting house, Scrooge’s bedroom,
Bob Cratchet’s house, Mr. Fezziwig’s place — glide silently on
their diagonal path to center stage, the lives of those who have been
affected by Scrooge, both past and present, are brought into vibrant
relief. Simon Brooking is a model of repressed servitude as Bob
Scrooge’s underpaid clerk who hides his pain because he cannot afford
proper medical attention for his son Tiny Tim (Josh Rose). Caren
is warm and dutifully supportive as Mrs. Cratchit. And Devon Ershow,
Clare Joyce, and Abby Mycek are charming and funny as the Cratchit
children, who only think they see a ghost when Scrooge comes to visit
Robert Ari and Jayne Houdyshell are bright plump visions of
joy as the Fezziwigs, in their orange-accented attire, as is their
comically vivacious daughter, as played by Ellie Dvorkin. Mark Niebuhr
earns our sympathy as the troubled yet still fearsome ghost of Jacob
Marley. He’s as eternally tormented by his own failure in life as
he is anguished by what he sees as his former partner’s inevitable
destiny. And Mikel Sarah Lambert, as Scrooge’s put-upon housekeeper,
get a good scream when Scrooge mistakes her for a ghost in his
The large cast, often doubling roles, and which also includes 12 area
children, will leave no doubt in your mind that the ghostly comings
and goings are being taken very seriously.
The green-and-red gowned Ghost of Christmas Present, as played by
an empowering Kim Brockington, is the personification of a decorated
Christmas tree. Although she looks to be always on the verge of
out into soul-satisfying song, her otherwise glittering performance
is suffused with a street-wise sparkle. There is more than a little
sass behind her magic wand that lifts the frightened, wide-eyed
off the ground and sends him soaring into the air.
Just as Jess Goldstein’s richly detailed costumes are shown off best
in the dazzling party scenes, Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting makes
its most stunning statements in the near darkness when chains and
terrors go bump in the night, particularly with the arrival of the
gigantic cloaked Ghost of Christmas Future.
Director Michael Unger and designer Ming Cho Lee have re-addressed
"A Christmas Carol" and re-affirmed its place as the perfect
holiday show. My only quibble is that big fat goose that Scrooge has
delivered to the Cratchits looks brown and fully cooked. Could it
be that London butchers provided such fancy service back then? I doubt
it. Merry Christmas and bon appetit!
— Simon Saltzman
Place, 609-258-2787. To December 24. $28 to $40. www.mccarter.org
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.