Impressive acting, visuals bring "A Christmas Carol" to life
“Breathtaking” best describes McCarter Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol.” From the opening scene, in which carolers revel in Christmas festivities, to the very end, when a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge walks offstage with Tiny Tim, McCarter’s production brings Charles Dickens’ powerful message to the stage in a stunningly beautiful performance.
“A Christmas Carol,” a familiar work by Dickens, follows the stingy Scrooge as he scoffs at Christmas and generosity. After visits from several spirits who remind him of his past, show him the present and warn him of the future, Scrooge repents his miserly ways and fully embraces the new idea that “Mankind is business.” This play follows Scrooge as he transitions through many moods — grumpy, skeptical, remorseful, fearful and joyful. Although Dickens first published this work in the mid-19th century, it remains just as relevant today. McCarter’s production presents this classic holiday play with aplomb.
Graeme Malcolm plays the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, the notoriously greedy businessman. His talent truly shines through during Scrooge’s most emotional scenes. As he watches scenes from his past, he begs the Ghost of Christmas Past to spare him the emotional torture of reliving the worst decisions of his life, such as breaking off his engagement with Belle (Kimiye Corwin) and ignoring the request made by his dying sister, Fan (Lauren Culpepper). His quivering voice, filled with melancholy and regret, convinces the audience he has begun to repent. Later on, writhing on the floor in mental anguish, Scrooge begs the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come to reassure him the future could still be different. The pain and remorse which Malcolm infuses into Scrooge’s voice has a powerful effect on these scenes and the play as a whole, as it makes Scrooge’s transformation believable. The audience, hearing Scrooge on the verge of tears plead for a second chance, sympathizes with him and breathes a sigh of relief when he turns over a new leaf.
One of the most phenomenal aspects of this play is its special effects. The target audience of “A Christmas Carol” in today’s theaters is families with young children, and McCarter’s production features plentiful vibrant visual imagery to capture the attention of its youngest audience members. Such effects include a befuddled Scrooge falling through the floor of the stage and then tumbling slowly through the air to great audience amusement. Another humorous scene involving special effects occurs as Scrooge prepares for bed in his room — the candles blow out mysteriously, and some unseen force tampers with his furniture. A darker scene catches the audience by surprise when Scrooge’s head-shaped door knocker suddenly comes to life, rearing out of the door with eyes ablaze and mouth agape, shrieking Scrooge’s name. Then, near the end of the play, a tombstone covered in parchment emerges from the ground. A fire suddenly burns away the paper, revealing to a terrified Scrooge his own name carved on the stone. These special effects heighten the mood of otherworldliness in the play, emphasizing the major role the spirits play in Scrooge’s transformation.
The artfully decorated set also contributes extensively to the success of McCarter’s production. Designed by Ming Cho Lee, the set transports the audience to Great Britain in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. The high level of detail in the sets, such as the numerous books on the shelves in Scrooge’s office and the luxurious grandeur of Scrooge’s home, enhances the scenes spectacularly. In particular, the design of Scrooge’s two-story office building allows characters to interact with each other from different floors, which contributes to both lighthearted and serious moments in the play. In one instance, Scrooge’s only employee, Bob Cratchit, springs up the spiral staircase to collect his wages, to which Scrooge derisively remarks, “You are always the first in line!” amid much laughter from the audience. A more serious use of the two floors occurs as Scrooge stands in the second-floor loft and shouts at his family below that Christmas is useless, declaring his catchphrase, “Bah! Humbug!” The beautifully created set is definitely one of the most important parts of this play.
Dickens’ classic Christmas story has only grown in popularity since it was first published. With plenty for adults and children alike, McCarter’s production provides excellent entertainment with a powerful underlying message for all audiences.
5 out of 5 paws
Pros: Beautiful set; stunning visual effects.