London, 1843: A Merry Christmas and a Stingy Ebenezer Scrooge

Culture Watch
tags: theater review, A Christmas Carol

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at

Last year, the McCarter Theater in Princeton, N.J., announced that this December it was going to open a brand new version of its classic Christmas hit, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, which has been running there each holiday season for more than forty years. Redo A Christmas Carol? Do you hear that old adage, don’t fix something that is not broken, in the background.

Well, I am happy to report that this latest version of the play, that opened on Friday, is terrific and even better than the last, a grand package of theatrical chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

You all know the story. Tight, stingy old Ebenezer Scrooge, who has been paying his beloved but overworked clerk Bob Cratchit low wages for years and is a neighborhood joke in London in 1843, is visited by three spirits – Christmas past, present and future. They shake up old Ebenezer pretty good and by the end of the play he is a changed man, a merry old Father Christmas himself.

In this new production, a dozen or so old Londoners wander through the audience and theater before the show and at intermission then take the stage before each act to sing Christmas carols. The three standard old ghosts have been replaced by a child, a jolly woman and a scary looking ghoul in a top hat. There is more music than ever and a Christmas carol sung by the audience. The play has impressive sets and a huge, revolving staircase that will dazzle all. There is a sensational storm scene and a bizarre and breathtaking tombstone for Scrooge, covered up in an eerie fog.

What is back is an adorable Tiny Tim (has there been a Tiny Tim since 1i843 who has not been adorable?), friendly and lovable young adult members of the Scrooge family and the boisterous Fezziwig party.

And back again, of course, is nasty old Mr. Scrooge, this year portrayed by the marvelously gifted Greg Wood, who gives a memorable and titanic performance as the old skinflint.

There is always something special, something magical in the air at the McCarter staging of A Christmas Carol. I don’t know what it is. You can sense it in the air at a Fourth of July Parade, any hospital’s maternity ward and a World Series game, too.

The Dickens story has been mounted as a play numerous times all over the world. It has been turned into several movies. It is as much a fixture of Christmas as the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, the ballet The Nutcracker and any kid riding a sled down a snow covered hill.

It’s theme of last minute salvation for a crusty old man, love of family and hope, in bad times anywhere and anytime, and the sure knowledge that somehow, someway, all the Tiny Tims of this world are going to be saved.

Little Tiny Tim is saved, but not until after Scrooge tumbles out of bed, awakened by a wonderful small child who is the ghost of Christmas past. She takes Ebenezer back in time to see what he lost over the years, from friends to the love of a wonderful young woman. He goes to parties of his youth, meets old friends (as a ghost) and realizes the damaged he has done to his own life and to others. The real jolt comes when the chatty ghost of Christmas present arrives, with that fabulous revolving staircase, to show Scrooge that today, despite his horrific personality and tragic attitude towards everyone, he is still loved. Then he gets a final, awful tour of London, showing little crippled tiny Tim dead and then, after a shattering storm, his own grave. It is then that the old man turns his life around, to the astonishment of everyone that he knows.

The story moved people deeply when it was first published, and then produced as a play, in the nineteenth century. It moves people just as deeply today. In 2016 our prisons are just as overcrowded as they were in London in 1843 (mentioned critically in the play) and we have our homeless shelters as they had workhouses. We have our sick kids and poverty stricken families, too.

Director Adam Immerwahr has done a fine job working with so many actors to produce such a successful production. Among the skilled actors in the ensemble cast are Wood, as Scrooge, Warner Miller as Bob Cratchit, Liam McKernan as Tiny Tim, Lance Roberts as Fezziwig, Ivy Cardle as the ghost of Christmas Past, Mimi Francis as the ghost of Christmas present and Jessica Bedford as Mrs. Cratchit.

By sheer accident, I saw Frank Capra’s movie It’s a Wonderful Life the night before I caught A Christmas Carol in Princeton. I got a double header of Christmas joy. Then, almost on cue, it started to snow as I drove home from Princeton. There was so much Christmas around me that I swear I could see Santa’s reindeer getting ready for the big night on some wooded farmland I drove past.

PRODUCTION: Produced by the McCarter Theatre Center. Scenic Design: Daniel Ostling, Choreography: Lorin Latarro, Costumes: Linda Cho, Lighting: Lap Chi Chu, Sound: Darron L. West, Special Effects Design: Jeremy Chernick. The play is directed by Adam Immerwahr. It runs through December 31.

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