‘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.
Regional Theater is the engine that drives original theatrical productions and puts them on the map, moving them toward greatness. If new plays are nurtured and developed with love, effort and artistry, eventually they may be shepherded to Broadway. This is especially true if the theatrical group has an esprit de corps and inspired guide to watch over the flock of artists and their offerings. The beauty of such non profit theater is that there are no chains shackling its creativity. Without the pressures of time and money weighing heavily upon it, the best regional theaters make the most of their incredible opportunity to experiment, innovate and collaborate with a fluid mix of playwrights, actors and directors.
This has been the case with Westchester Collaborative Theater, established in 2011 in Ossining, New York. Within the span of barely two short years, this regional theater group’s productivity has burgeoned like Jack’s magical beanstalk. WCT has produced Winterfest 2011 and Winterfest 2012. These events included a number of Ten Minute Plays, original offerings by WCT member playwrights…world premiers, acted and directed by professionals and aspirants. With a variety of individuals at the ready, a spirit of generous camaraderie infuses openness and flexibility not regularly accessible in the closed atmosphere of stuffy professional theater which is hesitant to take risks.
A blessing for WCT is its proximity to New York City, the theater hub of the world. Guest artists who live in the area, like comedian Robert Klein (last year) and in November of this year, well known actor and filmmaker Campbell Scott, are able to share their talent and expertise and serve as an inspiration to veteran performers and engaged newbees. The atmosphere at WCT is creative and non threatening, the overriding risk of lousy box office receipts absent. WCT thrives on donations, grants and the good will of patrons and the surrounding community. It is a labor of love won by the efforts of dedicated individuals like Executive Director, Alan Lutwin, who adore live theater and the living moments of performance art.
This year’s Winterfest follows on the heels of a productive year for the Westchester Collaborative Theater which included the scheduled Summerfest of One-Act play readings, monthly LAB with developmental readings and talk backs about select playwrights’ works in progress and a full length play reading. As a result of WCT’s labs, playwright/director Michael Thomas Cain was able to develop his play and present Enough’s Enough at La MaMa E.T.C. in NYC as part of the 2012 NY International Fringe Festival.
The works-in progress initiative for playwrights, directors and actors has been exciting. Each week guest artists with years of experience in the entertainment industry engaged in readings and talk backs. In November award winning actor and director, Campbell Scott (Victor Geddes with Julia Roberts in Dying Young and the protagonist of David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner, Co-director of the award winning film, The Big Night with Stanley Tucci) performed a reading of The Wife and the Widow Next Store by Richard Manichello. The playwright, screenwriter, actor, poet (penned the award winning Choices of the Heart for television) who wrote Agnes of God, John Pielmeier (he also wrote the screenplay for the film Agnes of God) was another guest artist in November who shared his experiences and contributions to the theater and television community.
This season’s 2012 Winterfest of Ten Minute Plays included new members, professionals and those whose love of theater, writing, directing and acting have kept them involved in regional theater in the New York City area. Many of the artists’ works have appeared in Drama festivals in New York City and around the nation. Of these, some have been semi-finalists or finalists at the festivals, nominees of major prizes and award winners of other venues.
One such notable is Richard Manichello, 30 years in the entertainment business (actor, producer, Artistic Director of Peekskill Playhouse) and an Emmy Award-winning director and writer of stage, film and television. Manichello directed two plays for the WCT Winterfest. The first was Hooters, written by playwright Gabrielle Fox. Fox’ plays have been produced throughout New York City and the metro region. Manichello also directed Lava Sus Manos by playwright Jess Erick.
Another professional, Rosary O’Neill, whose work was presented at the Winterfest, like Manichello, has weighty career experience and many awards and fellowships under her belt. O’Neill who is from New Orleans is a published/produced playwright (22 published plays) novelist, actor, director and retired Professor of Drama and Speech at Loyola University of New Orleans. The fourth edition of her textbook, The Actor’s Checklist, is used in schools nationwide. O’Neill founded the Southern Repertory Theatre in New Orleans and for many years was its Artistic Director, producing a number of the plays she had written. The comedic 10 minute play “Turtle Soup,” directed by Elaine Hartel (actor and director for WCT and other New York regional theater groups) was excerpted from O’Neil’s semi-autobiographical play about a wealthy family in New Orleans, White Suits in Summer.
For more information about the Westchester Collaborative Theater’s 2012 Winterfest of Ten Minute Plays, the actors, directors and playwrights, or for information about membership in this active regional theater company, check their Facebook page, Westchester Collaborative Theater.
Not pictured, Take One for the Team by Carol Mark. Directed by Joe Albert Lima. With John Barbera as Will, Margie Ferris as Terri and Taku Hirai as Kevin.