McCarter Theatre‘s A Christmas Carol has been a Princeton area holiday tradition for decades. It’s a wonderful form of family entertainment, and for some kids, it’s their introduction to the theater. This year, McCarter offers us a reimagined production. Adam Immerwahr is at the helm as the new director and he worked with a clean slate to give us a fresh perspective of this timeless classic.
As in the last two productions of A Christmas Carol, Immerwahr is using David Thompson’s adaptation. However, the entire cast has been replaced. 2016 introduces Greg Wood, one of Philadelphia’s top actors, as the latest Scrooge at McCarter. Wood is joined by 10 other equity actors plus local talent that make up the community and youth ensembles. The cast is, as in previous years, wonderfully diverse in age, race, and experience.
The newly formed Community Ensemble consists of 25 local, non-equity performers. This is in addition to the usual Youth Ensemble that includes school-age children. “A number of theaters around the country are bridging the professional-participatory divide by inviting audiences to become actively involved in the work”, says Immerwahr. “I was interested in seeing how we could extend that… and really involve community members by having them as members of the ensemble.” Some members of the Community Ensemble can be found caroling in the lobby and theater, as well as striking up a conversation with the audience before the performance. There is a fun sing-along in the theater segueing to the beginning of the show. Their role makes the experience more welcoming and engaging.
The sets are all new for this production. The tilting of Scrooge’s house/Fezziwig’s counting house gave the previous set a sense of fantasy. The current set design establishes the mood for the new production. It has a more natural look and gives a realistic presentation of Victorian England and is done well by Set Designer Daniel Ostling. They have been beautifully constructed and glide along the stage seamlessly to transform scenes right before our eyes. Ostling does a great job muting the colors when Scrooge is taken to the past, as to make the memories a little blurry and he makes the scene dark and a bit morbid when Scrooge is brought to the future.
The costumes are custom-made and gorgeous, especially at Fred and Lily’s Christmas gathering where you see women in gowns and men in morning suits in bold red and green. The Fezziwig party (above) also offers a glimpse of the many Victorian costumes.
A Christmas Carol is basically a ghost story with magic performed live in front of the audience, so a brilliant addition to this production is having a special effects designer. Jeremy Chernick is one of the top special effects artists in the country for the theater and was responsible for many of the effects for the Harry Potter stage play. Chernick’s work is amazing in this production, and at times it’s as if illusionists are performing on stage. Jeremy Chernick brings the theater experience to another level at McCarter.
The acting is of the highest caliber. The cast performs well together, and both ensembles blend in seamlessly. Greg Wood lives up to his reputation, delivering a powerful Ebenezer Scrooge. Warner Miller (Antony & Cleopatra and The Convert at McCarter) gives an outstanding performance as Bob Cratchit, portraying him as a gentle and compassionate father, and is the best I’ve seen in the past five years.
Adam Immerwahr knocks it out of the park, with this fun, engaging, and magical production! It’s great for the young and young at heart.
A Christmas Carol runs December 9 – 31 in the Matthews Theatre. There is one intermission and the run time is 2 hours. Single tickets range from $25 – $93 and are on sale now online, by phone at (609) 258-2787, or in person at the McCarter Theatre Ticket Office, located at 91 University Place in Princeton.