Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey / Delaware Valley

A Christmas Carol
McCarter Theatre Center
Review by Cameron Kelsall

Also see Cameron's review of Diner


Jonas Hinsdale and Allen E. Read
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
McCarter Theatre Center's annual production of A Christmas Carol has been a New Jersey holiday tradition for nearly 20 years. It returned to Princeton's Matthews Theatre this week in a production that remains enjoyable despite showing clear signs of age.

The straightforward adaptation by David Thompson (The Scottsboro Boys) and Michael Starobin (best known as a Tony Award-winning orchestrator) plays like a CliffsNotes treatment of the Dickens classic. Thus, the physical production is the star of the show, and it has been created by a trifecta of heavyweights: the legendary Ming Cho Lee (sets), Jess Goldstein (costumes), and Rob Ashford (choreography). Lee's scenic design—all sharp edges and canted angles—evokes Ebenezer Scrooge's warped priorities, his slanted mind and steely heart. You can almost feel the chilly London wind blow through the drafty bedroom where the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future come to take him on his journey.

Goldstein's costumes manage to be both period specific and eye catching. He does a particularly good job with the Ghost of Christmas Present, that avatar of the spirit of the season, which Nike Kadri plays with winning verve. Although the production is light on singing and dancing outside of a few holiday carols, Ashford and director Michael Unger keep the large ensemble moving effortlessly and cheerfully throughout the production.

This year's production marks Graeme Malcolm's sixth consecutive outing as Ebenezer Scrooge. It might be time for him to retire. He manages to convincingly growl and bray when Scrooge is in "bah, humbug" mode, but he seems disconnected in moments that call for more quiet introspection. Some of this adaptation's strongest moments are its most tender, as when the Ghost of Christmas Past (played well by a trio of children: Madeline Fox, Caroline Bednar, and Neha Kalra) recalls young Ebenezer's final holiday with his beloved sister Fan. Malcolm reacts by rote in this scene, continuing in much the same manner when he is forced to watch Ebenezer dismiss his true love, Belle. Without deep connection in these flashback, Scrooge's final transformation can only feel hollow.

The remainder of the cast comprises Broadway veterans and solid regional actors. Allen E. Read and January LaVoy give strong performances as Bob and Grace Cratchit; their children are well played by Ivy Cordle (Belinda), Quinn Thierfelder (Martha), Liam Angello (Peter), and Jonas Hinsdale (Tiny Tim). Billy Finn is great fun as Jacob Marley; James Ludwig brings great personality to Scrooge's ever-hopeful nephew Fred. Anne O'Sullivan deploys a flawless Scottish accent as Scrooge's charwoman Mrs. Dilber. In a series of roles that hardly call for subtlety, Bradley Mott and Kathy Fitzgerald still manage to stick a toe over the line.

Some of the supernatural effects of the production seem less exciting than they probably did when this production debuted, and such advanced stagecraft was not as common. Yet, this production is sure to delight its audience, composed largely of families and non-theatergoers. It went over like catnip at the performance I attended—and isn't that the point?

A Christmas Carol continues at McCarter Theatre Center's Matthews Theatre, 91 University Place, Princeton, New Jersey, through December 27, 2015. Tickets ($50.50-103.50) can be purchased online at mccarter.org, by phone (609-258-2787), or at the box office (hours: Monday-Saturday, 10-6; Sunday, 11-6).


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