‘A Christmas Carol’ a Gorgeous Re-birthing of the Dickens Treasure, on Broadway, Starring Campbell Scott, Andrea Martin, LaChanze
If you go to the Lyceum Theatre this holiday season, you will experience a haven of love filled with joy, good will and lots of treats (clementines and Tate’s chocolate chip miniatures passed out to the hungry audience right before the performance). What an exceptional re-vitalization of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol this production is.
The uplifting classic about the human ability to change one’s character from grasping restriction to one of generosity and love is one we need to revisit as often as possible in this time of political divisiveness and “un-newsworthy” acts of cruelty, malice and social ill will. The production is a subtle call to arms, a reminder of our choices. If we must reveal traits, why not manifest the spiritual attributes of goodness and kindness to energize our minds and hearts toward the positive. Bah Humbug with negativity! The glass should and must be half-full and eventually, it just might be overflowing. All things are possible to those who believe.
Mind you this idea is never “preached” in this fabulous, sonorous production. But these themes are so infused by the characters, the story-line, the lyrically rendered traditional Christmas carols that waft in and out between bits and pieces of choral story telling, we are ever-so-gently wrapped in their meanings like a glorious present which we are encouraged to “pass on to others.” For those who see the production, and you must to fully appreciate this novel conception of a seasonal delight, you will understand how “pass it on to others, pass it forward,” becomes a prominent and sage aphorism, especially in Act II.
The production which was first presented in London at The Old Vic is currently in its third season there. It is understandable why it is a smash favorite. Will it return next year in New York City as it most likely will in London? Please! Adapted by Jack Thorne with an intriguing design, tenor and texture by a laudatory creative team, the craggy penurious, scoundrel Scrooge portrayed with power and emotional range by Campbell Scott has rarely been given such a send-off.
From costumes to staging to lighting and sound, this is a spiritual manifestation of dreams and possibilities which spark one’s imagination and send chills down our spines. From the first appearance of Jacob Marley dragging chains and bondages up from infernal regions and recriminations, to the subsequent howling of the winds and fog mists swirling diabolically to the deep tonal registers of darkness, this is indeed, first and last “A Ghost Story of Christmas,” Dickens very own handle characterizing his most famous work.
Before we meet the protagonist, hear/see his story, the cast shares the cookie and fruit favors and sings in black long coats and top hats with bells ringing a melodic symphony of cheer, whose message clearly, beautifully resounds with grace and humor. Then Scrooge, the gruff, malcontent stomps into the scene in the appropriate Victorian dress of the counting house with white, disarrayed whiskers and shocked out hair. Campbell Scott steps into the soul of this misanthropist who despises Christmas and all it means until ghosts haunt him and he transforms into an innocent child as the light of wonder fills his spirit.
Scott takes a version of a caricature we’ve all come to appreciate and authenticates him as a live individual. I couldn’t help but equate him with some political caricatures of our nation with the hope that they, too, may change, come to life and fill out as generous recondite human beings. But Scott’s Scrooge has the chief driver of transformation propelling him along: guilt, shame and remorse and the inclination to apologize and want to be a better person. Others do love him despite himself and most probably have prayed and blessed him along his darkened way. Thus, he comes to the end of himself on a ghostly evening “the night before Christmas.”
When the Ghost of Christmas Past visits him (the illustrious, quaintly humorous and festively dressed Andrea Martin) we understand the reasons why Scrooge’s present is what it is and un-examined lump of coal which the ghosts put under intense heat and guilty pressure.
Nevertheless, Martin’s ghost reveals Scrooge’s younger days as he looks on poignantly amazed. The exuberance of his childhood, the longing not to be alone and the love are present. He loves Belle (the fine Sarah Hunt) but this love becomes bottled up in dreams of ambition to create a grand lifestyle for her. Of course these fade and became lost as Scrooge allows money to erect itself into an all-consuming devouring monstrosity; there is never enough; Scrooge is never rich enough for himself, though Belle would have married a man of her father’s station because she loves him and as he later finds out, still does love him.
The Ghost of Christmas Present enters in the same clouded mist and the foreboding is heightened as LaChanze with ironic tone and admonition ringing throughout her carriage comes to visit. Her outfit is the same as the Ghost of Christmas Past in a festive floral pattern. But her distinguishing feature remains the sunglasses; interpret them as you will. LaChanze manages to be cool and witty in the part; the sunglasses are a nice touch.
With her visit Scott’s Scrooge has begun his subtle transformation. If you blink, you will miss the bends in the turning points of his change. Gradually, he loses his anger, sullenness, recalcitrance, emotional unkemptness and judgmental superiority. Not only does he go with her willingly, he shows his aptitude to learn about himself. After all, didn’t Marley warn him of three visitations for the sole reason of forestalling his friend and kindred mammonish spirit the horrors of Marley’s eternal damnation?
The mood shifts of the ghostly hauntings are like whispers, acute and filled with mystery. The choral numbers of various carols enhance the ghostly visits. The lamps deck the ballustrade, festoon the stage and theater ceiling suspended by long and short chains. The design is just spectacularly suggestive of the time and place, themes of light and dark, redemption and damnation. Rob Howell (set and costume design) Hugh Vanstone (lighting design) Simon Baker (sound design) and Christopher Nightingale (composer/orchestrator/arranger) especially have secured Matthew Warchus’ vision of A Christmas Carol as floating through the realms between the material and ethereal worlds. It is this symbolic vision that gives credence to otherworldly consciousness as one of the unspoken ghosts that visits Scrooge and promotes his final transformation having come back from a deadened heart, mind and soul.
Without giving too much away, the Second Act shines figuratively and manifestly as the light embraces Scrooge when the Ghost of Christmas Future, in a surprising twist, his sister Jess (Hannah Elless) notes what could be his future. Not exactly in keeping with the tenor and atmosphere of the Act One, nevertheless, Act Two emphasizes not the horrors and fear of a possibly doomed soul, but the joy, happiness and innocence of a reclaimed one.
If this is what it means to be “Born Again,” I’ll embrace it! Campbell Scott rebirths a nightmarish man into a lovely individual whose child-like wonder effuses love and generosity. His performance is moment to moment and the transformation is made complete in “the twinkling of an eye,” and “at the last trump!” This is his redemption through resurrection. And we adore Scrooge’s happiness and good will and find ourselves laughing and crying at his exuberance. Somewhere tucked in the background did I hear “O Holy Night” at these bright, shining moments? Perhaps.
Matthew Warchus’ staging making use of the entire theater even up to the second balcony. This is captivating. And his involvement of the audience making this experience wholly interactive is just grand. I adored the themes: the reigning/snowing down of blessings on the audience, the abundance and prosperity offered by Scrooge’s resurrected spirit that the audience gets to pass along as part of the festivities and much, much more.
I daresay, perhaps agnostics and atheists will approve of this version because it is heartfelt, human and doesn’t have a whiff of sanctimonious clap trap or religious institutionalism anywhere near it. And as for the commercialism of Christmas? The production explodes it at the first appearance of the cast in top hats and Victorian long coats. Thank goodness. Indeed, Thorne, Warchus and the creative team reveal their profound understanding of Dickens’ themes elevating this “haunting” story to the classic it is. The production in breathtaking array exemplifies why A Christmas Carol will resonate always.
See this for the spectacular interactive staging, lighting design, director’s vision, spiritual beauty, acting, Campbell Scott’s Scrooge-transformation, fabulously interwoven-in-the-narrative Christmas carols sung and played like you’ve never experienced before. And see it for the mysterious, otherworldly enchantments and too much to repeat here, not the least of which are the clementines. With special kudos to those not mentioned before: Lizzi Gee (movement) Howard Joines (music coordinator) Campbel Young Assoiates (wigs, hair, make-up design) Michael Gacetta.
A Christmas Carol runs at the Lyceum Theatre (149 West 45th Street) with one intermission. For tickets and times to this must see LIMITED ENGAGEMENT, CLICK HERE. You will be happy you did.
Concert for America, hosted by Sirius XM’s Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley was held on June 30 at the Great Hall, Cooper Union. Rudetsky and Wesley debuted Concert for America on January 20, 2017 and have toured the country with eclectic talent line-ups with all concerts benefiting 5 national organizations fighting for civil, human and environmental rights.
In light of what was happening to migrant children being separated from their families and babies being taken from their mothers, a friend posited to the duo that they put up another Concert for America. They suggested that it coincide with the day of national protests on June 30 (over 700 marches took place to protest against the egregious activities occurring at the southern border) and be held after the marches.
In record time Rudetsky and Wesley contacted exceptional performers who agreed to take out time from their inordinately busy schedules and perform for a “great cause,” to inspire and uplift us and to challenge us to be overcomers who fervently take a stand for the principles of freedom and democracy, decency and humanity. The Concert for America presented songs of hope and encouragement by Mandy Gonzalez, Jeremy Jordan, Idina Menzel, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Olga Merediz, Chita Rivera, Keala Settle Shaina Taub, and Patrick Wilson to name a few. Also appearing was concert violinist Jorge Avila. And Tina Fey and Andrea Martin shared their comedy and commentary. Matt Bomer and Andrew Rannells, both appearing in The Boys in the Band matinee and evening performances made, a video for the audience which Rudetsky and Wesley played.
Also present were representatives and spokespersons from the ACLU and children’s services and the organizations working on the frontlines that the Concert for America is raising money for. These include Al Otro Lado, Texas Civil Rights Project, ACLU Foundation of Texas and Florence Project.
If you were unable to attend the Concert for America at the Great Hall in Cooper Union, the benefit concert will be rebroadcast on Sunday, July 8, 2018 at 9:00 pm ET on the following sites where you may also donate to help organizations help the migrant families and children on the southern border. The sites are www.ConcertsforAmerica.com and Facebook.com/ConcertforAmerica.
Before the show started, I had the opportunity to speak with Chita Rivera, Patrick Wilson and Andrea Martin who briefly weighed in about the state of affairs in our country. Their comments are edited gently for fluidity and clarity.
Commentary by Chita Rivera.
Chita Rivera is a Broadway legend with two Tony awards for Best Leading Actress in a Musical and eight additional Tony nominations. She has won so many awards (including The Presidential Medal of Freedom) they have created the Chita Rivera Awards in her honor. She has originated roles in West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, The Rink, The Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Visit to name a few. To read more about Chita Rivera in an interview with Richard Ridge, presented by The League of Professional Theatre Women and Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, CLICK HERE.
Ms. Rivera, what do you say to people who are down and depressed about what is going on? You are so uplifting…
Unfortunately, this particular subject and all of the others that we’re defending here have gotten ME down and have gotten ME depressed. We have to unite. We have to not let this happen and speak up and all come together and have evenings like this and have marches that are happening. Our voices have to be heard because (the situation at the border) this is inhumane.
How far do we have to go?
I don’t know. As far as we HAVE to go. We have to take every single day and do something. We can’t lower ourselves to a level that exists out there. We can do it, legally. We can do it with the passion from our hearts. We don’t have to go to the lowest level that has manifested. We have to raise our bar. I want to feel proud to be an American again. I remember going to London and being so proud, years ago, because they were so kind to us and so welcoming that we were Americans. And I was so proud of my country. Now, I’m embarrassed to go anywhere.
But you are representing the best of our country. So any time you go out and sing you show the talent and greatness of what citizens of our nation can be.
Yes. That’s why my daughter Lisa and I are here. And it’s why Freddie and John are represented here. John Kander and Fred Ebb. We’re singing “The Apple Doesn’t Fall Very Far From the Tree.” (It is from the show The Rink, Broadway-1984, by composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, book by Terrance McNally. Chita Rivera originated the role of Anna, Lisa Minelli the role of Angel). And it’s about a mother and daughter and the differences between mothers and daughters and about children. So it’s very appropriate.
Commentary by Andrea Martin
Andrea Martin is an American-Canadian actress, singer, author and comedian. Best known for her work in the television series Second City TV, she has also appeared in films, most recently My Big Fat Greek Wedding 1 and 2. Renowned on Broadway, she won Tony Awards for My Favorite Year and the 2013 Revival of Pippin. Her performances on Broadway include Candide, Oklahoma!, Fiddler on the Roof, Young Frankenstein, Exit the King and Act One. She has received five nominations for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical more than any other actress in the award’s history.
You’re here. You care greatly about what is happening to our nation. How do you stay cheerful in the midst of all of this?
I think you compartmentalize. And you do the best you can, staying present in your own life so you’ll have the energy to help where you’re needed. You cannot disperse your drive, your focus by being depressed all the time.
If you could say one or two things to the leaders of our nation, what would you say to them?
I’d say, we can work this out. Let’s be decent people and listen to one another. That’s what I would say.
Commentary by Patrick Wilson
Patrick Wilson has been starring in Broadway musicals since 1995. He is a two-time Tony Award nominee for his roles in The Full Monty (2000–2001) and Oklahoma! (2002). In 2003, he appeared in the HBO miniseries Angels in America for which he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award and Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie. He has also appeared in many films renowned for Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2, The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 and more. He has been cast as Orm Marius/Ocean Master in Aquaman (2018).
I know you’re here because you care about what’s happening at the border. You have a family. You understand. If you had the opportunity to talk to Donald Trump, or Jeff Sessions or others, what might you say to them?
The older I get, I try to follow this idea: Say what you mean and mean what you say. I’m a pretty simple guy. I try to operate from the heart. I mean this with regard not only to Donald Trump or Jeff Sessions, but anybody. Anybody who doesn’t operate from the heart? I would say, try to! I think some people have a disconnect with the inner person. I can only speak from my experience. I want to be around people, work with people, work for people who are truthful, who believe in the good, who are creative people that lead from the heart. Those are the people I surround myself with.
Obviously, it’s not perfect. Not every relationship is perfect, not every job is perfect. But you try to weed out those who don’t jive with you. The older I get, those are the only the kinds of people I want to work with. So it’s hard for me to go along or follow and agree with people who say, “Oh, I don’t like him, but I like his policies. Or the comment, “Well, look what he’s done.”
I say, look at the person! That’s who artists are. That’s what artists do. It’s about the person. I only operate from the inside out. I don’t know how to operate any other way. For example take the guy who pays for everyone at the table but is rude to the waiter? I don’t like that guy. I don’t want to be around that guy. And I don’t want to have dinner with that guy ever again. That’s what we’re talking about.
When you visit online www.ConcertforAmerica.com you will be able to donate to the four organizations helping families on the border: Al Otro Lado, Texas Civil Rights Project, ACLU Foundation of Texas and Florence Project. The money donated will be divided up amongst the four organizations. Since the reunification of families must be accomplished by a court ordered date, reports have circulated that there are almost 3000 children that must be brought together with their families. And as the process continues, more will be revealed that we do not yet know about.
Regarding the Concert for America, the sold out tickets and the appearance on short notice of the celebrities and entertainers who came to The Great Hall, Cooper Union indicate how much people are concerned and upset. Indeed, they took a stand and showed up to inspire the rest of us. Many Americans, more than we may even realize, care and have a heart for children. The abusive human rights violations have to stop.
The Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall hosted by Neil Patrick Harris held no surprises if you saw the Drama Desk Awards. The award wins echoed each other this year, as the winners of the Drama Desks and Tonys mirrored each other last year. It’s as if the separate award committees sat down with each other and agreed on the wins.
Just the highligts are repeated here, of the Best Musical, Best Musical Revival, Best Play, Best Play Revival and the Actor awards. I’m thrilled for the Kinky Boots win for Best Original Musical and Cindi Lauper’s score win for Kinky Boots. I’m glad it won over Mathilda which I didn’t think was as great as it was touted to be when I saw it. I have yet to see the production of Kinky Boots, but will get tickets as soon as possible. Billy Porter now has a Tony to add to his Drama Desk Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. The trailer posted online with him dressed in drag is a show stopping number and looks like a deserved win. He, as many of the performers did, thanked his family and God for sustaining him throughout to bring him to the stage and the wins.
Pippin won for Best Musical Revival. I’m thrilled. See my review of Pippin here! I predicted wins for Andrea Martin (Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Revival) Diane Paulus (Best Director for Musical Revival) and Patina Miller (Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical Revival). I am so thrilled because I had the opportunity to tell Andrea Martin and Patina Miller that I hope they won because they were fabulous. Their wins bring viability and credibility to their careers and will most probably sky-rocket them to other roles in film or Broadway. I’m absolutely joyous for them. They and Diane Paulus so deserve it for their efforts.
Cicely Tyson (Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play ) received the Tony to go with her Drama Desk for her incredible, moving performance in A Trip to Bountiful. She was absolutely stunning and heart-wrenching. Judith Light received a Tony to go with her Drama Desk for her humorous character portrayal in The Assembled Parties. Likewise, Tracey Letts (Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play) won the Tony, adding to his award shelf that already holds a Drama Desk and other awards for his performance of George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The play’s director, Pam MacKinnon, also won the Tony as she did the Drama Desk.
Courtney B. Vance from Lucky Guy by Nora Ephron brought home the Tony for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play. He was excellent, though I did want Tony Shalhoub to win in that category for Golden Boy. Shalhoub’s portrayal of the father (too bad it was so early in the season) was exceptional; he was dynamic and powerful in his soft-spoken, loving, nuanced portrayal. His was a pivotal character, the conscience and the theme of Odets’ play. He brought together the elements brilliantly in a living, vital performance. It was a shame he didn’t win; he was breathtaking. Vance, though fine, didn’t do it for me, where Hanks, actually, was touching and wonderful…enhancing Ephron’s somewhat lackluster characterization of McAlary. (See my review.) If not for Hanks, the play would have been a yawn. But Letts was the favorite and I unfortunately missed this supposedly iconic Virginia Woolf. After all the nominations, Matilda did receive a win for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical (Gabriel Ebert). For me, it was a toss up between Terrance Mann (Pippin) and Ebert, but I didn’t see the other performances, so I can’t say. I did think that Ebert was pushing for laughs as was Mann…both comedic roles. Comedy is very, very hard to do well.
The finest remarks in the evening were delivered by Tracey Letts as he thanked the ATW. He said something to the effect that the others in the category were not his competitors, they were his peers. He was absolutely correct: Tom Hanks (Lucky Guy) David Hyde Pierce (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) Nathan Lane (The Nance) and Tom Sturridge (Orphans)? I saw each production and there is absolutely no way I would have been able to select from these. Of course, I did not see Letts. And the Best Play? Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. What can I say? I loved it and of the four nominees, it was my favorite.
As a show, The Tony Awards was better than the Oscars which lasts forever in its own self-indulgent mode. But then I only watched two hours of The Tonys while I was online doing other things. It is how I watch TV, if I watch it at all, which is extremely seldom. I prefer streaming or the interactivity of social or mobile. The more alive, the better. That is why I love theater, but am annoyed that they have not entered the Social Media age of living, breathing interactivity during performances. They (the theater police) don’t trust the rabble to not throw things, I guess.
Don’t they understand about Macros flash settings and texting and silent mode on mobile? Don’t they get it that interactivity from fans IS THE BEST PROMOTION AND ADVERTISING OUT THERE FOR A BROADWAY SHOW? Maybe not. NASA gets it. They have Tweet teams. A play is a potential TWEET TEAM LAUNCH ON SOCIAL Yawn. I’m waiting for them to “get it.” It may take years.