The McCarter Theater Center in Princeton has presented ‘ “A Christmas Carol” annually since 1980, but is offering, this year, a “reimagined” version. It’s hard to imagine that anyone who loved the old one, though, isn’t going to love this one, too.
The theater is still using David Thompson’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novella. But this “A Christmas Carol” has new direction, by Adam Immerwahr (whose recent McCarter credits include “The Mousetrap” and “The Understudy”), as well as, for the first time, a special effects designer, Jeremy Chernick.
Chernick, who also has done special effects for “Aladdin” on Broadway and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in London, helps bring a spooky, otherworldly dimension to Jacob Marley’s ghost (Frank X) and the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Ivy Cordle), Christmas Present (Mimi Francis) and Christmas Future (Elisha Lawson). They make elaborate entrances and exits, and even fly, at times, and there are other surprises as well.
Don’t be worried that this is a cold, modern “A Christmas Carol,” though. It’s surely the most lavish one in New Jersey — and probably one of the most lavish ones in the country — but it’s still a warm, family-friendly affair, with ample amounts of seasonal music, and singing along encouraged at times. Some actors mingle with audience members before the show, and walk through the orchestra section’s aisles and even into the theater’s balconies, during it, in part so children can see their very authentic looking Victorian Era costumes (designed by Linda Cho) up close.
This “A Christmas Carol” also benefits from veteran actor (but McCarter rookie) Greg Wood’s performance as Ebenezer Scrooge; he makes the character as likable as he can be. This Scrooge does not seem to be a wizened, weary old man, but someone who is still full of life. Even at his worst, he seems foolishly misguided, not cruel, and you can see his potential for rebirth. And when that rebirth comes, it it truly uplifting.
The basic 25-person cast is augmented, at times, by many more actors, from a community ensemble and a children’s ensemble. The sheer number of people onstage helps create a sense of holiday-season hustle and bustle, especially at the party thrown by the perpetually jovial Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig (played by Lance Roberts and Anne L. Nathan).
And so, the “A Christmas Carol” baton has been successfully passed. There’s no reason to think McCarter audiences won’t continue to enjoy “A Christmas Carol,” in this new form, for many years to come.
“A Christmas Carol” is at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton through Dec. 31. Visit mccarter.org.