By Meredith Ganzman
Bring napkins and tissues to the new Broadway musical, A Christmas Carol. The first because the cast members, who are not playing holiday music before the show begins, are handing out and even throwing clementines and small bags of Tate’s chocolate chip cookies as far as the balcony. The sweets are the perfect snacks to settle audiences before this special kind of storytime if you will. But napkins the production forgot. So plan accordingly.
The latter- the tissues- we’ll get to that.
This musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic story transferred from the West End Old Vic theater and includes 12 carols from “Joy to the World” to a hauntingly beautiful “Silent Night.”
Ebenezer Scrooge is the ultimate holiday – and let’s just say year-long – grinch. Described as being as solitary as an oyster, Scrooge is near paranoid about the possibility of ever being poor. But he’s granted the ultimate gift when he’s visited by three spirits, the ghosts of Christmas past (Tony Award-winner Andrea Martin), present (Tony Award-winner LaChanze) and future (Rachel Prather) on Christmas Eve. They help him learn from the past and correct his present before his future is all but doomed.
The seasonal staple has been seen countless times before on the stage and both the big and small screens. But something about this adaptation has a certain pure magic that’s all too rare on Broadway these days. Tony Award-winners, playwright Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), director Matthew Warchus (Matilda) and set and costume designer Rob Howell (The Ferryman) are those “elves” responsible for this remarkable masterpiece.
Howell’s set design is bare at times but also eye catching. Mountains of lanterns are piled around the perimeter of the stage, reflecting how Scrooge must look deep within and even beyond in order to change. Entryways constructed with only their frames show how the potential to grow and evolve is a door that never really closes. And a swinging lantern from the proscenium will make you duck your head no matter where you’re sitting in the theater.
Parts of the show do become interactive, but you will actually want to take part in building this Christmas day feast. Cakes and pudding are passed through audience rows. Bushels of fruit slide from the top of the house onto the stage, followed by a ziplining turkey.
But all this delightful play does not overshadow the show’s stellar performances. Campbell Scott, known for the Netflix series ‘House of Cards,’ was last seen on Broadway in the Roundabout Theater Revival of Noises Off. His penurious yet clearly impained Scrooge is heartbreaking, so his cathartic turn towards good is particularly moving.
And yet it is two young actors sharing a smaller role who ultimately steal the show. Tiny Tim, alternately played by Sebastian Ortiz and Jai Ram Srnivasan, thaws Scrooge. Both actors have cerebral palsy, which affects muscle tone or posture. And their powerful performances leave even the most bah humbug of audiences in tears.
Cynical audiences may doubt that this all too familiar story deserves a fresh set of eyes. But the holidays are a time for the seemingly old to somehow shine anew. So tell your inner Scrooge that anything is possible, even as you wonder how actual wet “snow” falls from within the theater.
A Christmas Carol is playing at the Lyceum Theatre, 149 W 45th St, between 6th and 7th Avenues. It is a limited run through January 5th.
Running time is 2 hrs. with one intermission