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A CurtainUp NJ Review
A Christmas Carol

What else can I be when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money. A time for finding yourself a year older and not an hour richer. What's merry about that? If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with a "Merry Christmas" on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. — Scrooge<
Photo: Greg Wood and company members photo credit: T. Charles Erickson
For twenty-five years, The McCarter Theatre Center has been presenting David Thompson's adaptation of the famous Charles Dickens story. So what's new? Just about everything else. And that everything else is commendably gratifying. It's not that this traditional holiday show was wearing out its welcome, but that like all familiar classics, they occasionally need to be revitalized, re-envisioned and reconceived for the tastes and temperaments of a changing audience.

Wait, before you say "Bah, humbug!

This new production, under the direction of Adam Immerwahr, does not preclude our welcoming back that grumpy old geezer Ebenezer Scrooge. And he gets his due in a terrific performance by Greg Wood. This is not an easy role to take on, but Wood, who is making his McCarter debut, makes Scrooge's transformation from terrifying to tenderhearted as honest and real a makeover as one could want.

There are some surprises in store in the way that Dickens's now almost archetypal characters are seen as a racial and cultural mix. Whether we see director Immerwaher's perspective as a political metaphor for our times or as a social message of diversity, the actors ar uniformly excellent. Augmenting the large cast is a talented ensemble of community members of all ages.

For openers, there is a joyful sing-a-long to get the audience in the spirit with a carol that dates back to the Middle Ages. The impressive scenic design by Daniel Ostling is, almost overpoweringly contrived with moving, gliding ascending and descending pieces. With all that scenery shifting, Ostling's backdrop of a fog enshrouded mid-19th century London keeps the faith nicely even if there is precious little evidence of the abject squalor that Dickens noted. Some of that can be seen in some of the poverty-row attire designed by Linda Cho, who also dresses up the well-to-do in colorful period-perfect finery.

Of course, we know where we are going with Scrooge as he disdainfully ridicules those asking for charity and those who want to personally extend good will to him like his affable nephew Fred (JD Taylor). A breath of fresh air comes via the delightful performance by Sue Jin Song, as his befuddled housekeeper Mrs. Dilber. The nightmarish visit to him in his bedroom by his deceased business partner Jacob Marley (Frank X) should give you a start. It did me thanks in part to the eerie sounds created by designer Darron L.West.

The stunning and flickering atmospheric lighting by designer Lap Chi Chu make the haunting by the ghosts on Christmas Eve shiver worthy. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Ivy Cordle) makes a stunning appearance by levitating out of a gust of smoke and then floating about the room. I think this is where we applaud special effects designer Jeremy Chernick. I don't want to spoil the surprise that comes with the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Past (Elisha Lawson) who looks like a glittering Dresden doll, but I will say that if you've never seen a giggling Christmas tree, you'll see one with the Ghost of Christmas Present (a gregarious Mimi Francis.)

Forcibly made to revisit his life through childhood memories, a younger man's follies and his romantic regrets, Scrooge begins to see how he went astray. This, by losing the beautiful love of his life Belle (Jamila Sabares-Klemm) because of his obsession with making money. The party scene is at the home of young Scrooge's boss Mr. Fezziwig (Lance Roberts) and his flighty red-haired wife (Anne L. Nathan) brings the lively dances by choreographer Lorin Latarro. They may look a little like they belong in another show, but it's a dream. Composer Michael Friedman has contributed some pleasing underscoring to suit the play's many moods.

The healing of Scrooge's heart and soul is most evident in his relationship with his employee Bob Cratchit (Warner Miller) and the despairingly poor but joyous Cratchit family where Mrs Cratchit (Jessica Bedford) is barely able to put enough food on the table their crippled son Tiny Tim (Liam McKekrnan) alive. This tender final scene in which Scrooge is literally re-born and the spirit of Christmas is resurrected is reason enough for all of us to feel motivated by our sense of community in a needy world.


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A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Adapted by David Thompson
Directed by Adam Immerwaher

Cast of Principals: Greg Wood (Ebenezer Scrooge), Warner Miller (Bob Cratchit), JD Taylor (Fred), Jamila Sabares-Klemm (Lily/Belle), Liam McKernan (Tiny Tim), Zachary McDevitt (Peter Cratchit), Lance Roberts (Solicitor David/Mr. Fezziwig), Frank X (Old Marley/Old Joe), Sue Jin Song (Mrs. Dilber), Ivy Cordle (Ghost of Christmas Past), Kelsey Carroll (Fan, Miss Kate), Graham Beers (Scrooge as a Boy), Elisha Lawson (Young Marley, Ghost of Christmas Future), Anne L. Nathan (Mrs. Fezziwig/Lady Char/Laundress), Mimi Francis (Ghost of Christmas Present), Jessica Bedford (Mrs. Cratchit), Gabriella Shapcott (Martha Cratchit), Tashi Lakkaraju (Belinda Cratchit)
Composer: Michael Friedman
Choreographer: Lorin Latarro
Set Design: Daniel Ostling
Costume Design: Linda cho
Lighting Design: Lap Chi Chu
Sound Design: Darron L. Wesst
Special Effects Design: Jeremy Chernick
Wig Design: Carissa Thorlakson
Music Director: Charles Sundquist
Dialect Coach: Gillian Lane-Plescia
Supervising Stage Manager: Cheryl Mintz
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
Matthews Theatre at the McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place, Princeton
Performances: Tuesdays - Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays at 2p.m. Sundays at 1p.m. and 5:30p.m.
From 12/09/16 Opened12/10/16 Ends 12/31/16
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 12/10/16 NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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