Broadway’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ is sumptuous and memorable but anti-climactic

A Christmas CarolDirected By Matthew WarchusAdapted By Jack Thorne
Campbell Scott as Scrooge faces Marley in ‘A Christmas Carol.’ (Joan Marcus)

Forget about Marley’s Ghost. The most memorable special effect in the jovial new holiday-time production of “A Christmas Carol” on Broadway is the preparation of a sumptuous meal.

Scrooge, following his emotional conversion, resolves to put together a fantastic Christmas feast and enlists help from both the show’s ensemble and the audience. Laundry sheets are stretched from the balconies to the stage in order to shoot down potatoes, apples, oranges, sprouts and even a turkey.

And the food items do not even stop there. During a pre-show sequence, as musicians fiddle away onstage, top hat-wearing and basket-carrying cast members mingle with audience members and hand out complimentary clementines and boxes of chocolate chip cookies.

Although it is never too hard to find a production of “A Christmas Carol” each holiday season, it has been absent from Broadway since 2001, when Patrick Stewart last performed his one-man adaptation. A musical adaptation that played the Theater at Madison Square Garden for 10 years has also gone unseen since 2003.

The new “A Christmas Carol” comes to Broadway following runs at London’s Old Vic and stars stage and screen actor Campbell Scott (“The Sheltering Sky,” “Royal Pains”) as the miserly Scrooge. The production is infused with handsome and festive flair by director Matthew Warchus (“God of Carnage,” “Matilda”), including carolers, handbells, live musical underscoring, dancing and flickering lamps situated throughout the theater.

‘A Christmas Carol,’ stars Campbell Scott, Andrea Martin and LaChanze. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Unlike most stage versions of “A Christmas Carol,” which slavishly copy lines from the original Charles Dickens text, playwright Jack Thorne (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”) has made a genuine effort to expand upon the familiar story, including new post-transformation scenes between Scrooge and Tiny Tim and his former fiancée. Thorne also delves deeper into Scrooge’s relationships with his father and deceased sister.

Unfortunately, Thorne’s additions tend to feel more time-consuming than enlightening. It is also strange that the production, which begins rather swiftly, felt the need to incorporate an intermission after Scrooge had already been visited by the Ghosts by Christmas Past (Andrea Martin) and Present (LaChanze), leaving a rather anti-climactic second half.

Scott’s take on Scrooge is straightforward and traditional in nature, marked by combative barking and then bright-eyed cheeriness. As expected, Martin and LaChanze each add a playful touch and hearty attitude. Surprisingly, the most significant casting involves the small part of Tiny Tim, which is played at alternating performances by Sebastian Ortiz and Jai Ram Srinivasan, who each have cerebral palsy in real life.

The show’s producers may want to rethink the obligatory snowfall effect at the very end. Instead of bits of paper, they use a wet soapy substance that pours onto audience members like an unexpected shower. It certainly rained on my Christmas spirit.

2.5 stars

“A Christmas Carol” runs at the Lyceum Theatre through Jan. 5. 149 W. 45th St., achristmascarolbroadway.com.