A Festive and Twinkling A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Jack Thorne on Broadway
The immersive charm of Jack Thorne’s A Christmas Carol at the Lyceum Theatre begins when you enter. Actors in Victorian outfits pass out goodies of cookies and clementines (recommended to eat at intermission, so you won’t make noises during the performance). Then they hurl them across the stage into the audience’s open and eager palms. Where weaker retellings can feel stale, Thorne’s telling sparkles with heart and Christmas cheer, solidifying it into a wonderous family-friendly entertainment on Broadway — even if it involves a bit of daddy-issues pop psychology.
Adapting Charles Dickens’s classic 1843 novel, Jack Thorne’s script goes through the usual beats of Ebenezer Scrooge (Campbell Scott) getting haunted by three spirits, the Past (Andrea Martin), Present (LaChanze), and Future (Hannah Elless), but weaves in something new as every good A Christmas Carol adaptation does. A social critique is brought forward by Scrooge’s seething disregard for those below him, insisting that he has no responsibility for the poor, and that he could care less if they fade from existence — that is, until he sees their mortality. He turns away because he doesn’t want to confront the consequences of turning a blind eye. There’s additional angst with Scrooge and his drunken father, and we learn that Scrooge’s miser nature comes from the trauma of debt, the trauma of losing, and giving away could mean giving part of his soul away.
Thorne’s design twinkle and, boy, does the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child influence pop out in this show. Scrooge's office space piles safeboxes, boxes that fit evenly in the floorboards, as if to suggest that material gold is how he fills the hole in his life. There comes a gasp moment where a lantern bungies from the air and swing toward the audience like a pendulum, illuminating on one of the first entering specters. Spread across are chimes of carols and bell ringing that feel like you’re sitting by the hearth after a blustery winter.
Of course, there are little means of circumventing one of the stand-out condescending problematic of the Dickenson text and script where a child with a disability inspires a man’s compassion. Alternated by Sebastian Ortiz and Jai Ram Srinivasan, both child actors with cerebral palsy who became subject of discussion in “Rethinking Tiny Tim” in the New York Times, Tiny Tim remains a shrunken presence there to inspire pity or induce a patronizing “awwwwww” from the audience when the child validates Scrooge’s heart.
I dare not spoil more, such as Scrooge’s heartwenching reunion with an old flame, Belle (a headstrong Sarah Hunt), that is impeccably scripted, and some innocuous immersion fun where Scrooge rallies the audience to assist him with a bounty of food to the stage.
Without feeling like a yank-the-chain abruption, the suddenly open-ended nature of the ending leaves Scrooge to make the source material’s happy prophecy come true. We have faith he will.
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