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A Christmas Carol

  • Theater, Drama
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Jefferson Mays in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Photograph: Courtesy Chris WhitakerA Christmas Carol

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Jefferson Mays is his own ghosts in a magical Broadway staging of Dickens's holiday classic.

Broadway review by Adam Feldman

Every year at holiday time, theater goes to the Dickens. So many Christmas Carols ring out annually on the stages of New York that the sheer volume can be confounding: Can anyone manage to make this Victorian chestnut seem fresh again? I confess that I went to the new Broadway production with a touch of trepidation, prepared to roll my jaded eyes and mutter “humbug!” under my breath. Instead, my breath was plumb taken away. This splendid production is a Christmas miracle: The most theatrically fulfilling account of A Christmas Carol that I have ever seen.

The shining star at the top of the tree is Jefferson Mays, who delivers every word of the text himself. Unlike the version that was on Broadway in 2019, this latest turn of the Scrooge is scrupulously true to the spirit (and spirits) of Charles Dickens’s 1843 novella, which has been edited to fill 90 minutes of stage time without losing anything essential. Dickens used to perform readings of the text by himself on tour, and Patrick Stewart haunted Broadway in a popular series of bare-stage productions in the 1990s; Mays takes up that solo tradition with glorious variety, serving as the story’s all-seeing narrator, billed as the Mourner, as well as its bitter central pinchpenny and more than 40 other men, women, children and ghosts. (A second actor, billed as the Spectre, appears briefly and silently as a special effect.) 

It’s no secret that Mays is a master of juggling multiple roles onstage: He did it superbly in 2004’s I Am My Own Wife and in 2013’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Yet the skill with which he shape-shifts among the characters, defining them with deft economy, still inspires childlike delight. It’s of a piece with the way Dickens writes, and also with the dynamism of the staging around him. Director Michael Arden and designer Dane Laffrey are jointly credited with conceiving this production, and their work is inextricably meshed. Laffrey’s ingenious shifting set—ensconced in lighting by Ben Stanton, sound by Joshua D. Reid and projections by Lucy Mackinnon—ensures that A Christmas Carol never feels static: It begins with a bang and continues to surprise you at every turn, marshaling stage magic old and new, from candlelight to lasers, to create a feast of spectacle. 

As tricked-out as it is, this adaptation also doesn’t forget that its story is, at heart, a matter of life and death. Christmas, as Dickens puts it—in the voice, ironically, of Scrooge’s nephew Fred, one of the book’s heartiest and most cheerful figures—“the only time I know of when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave.” This sense of shared humanity and shared fate is one reason that Mays’s transformations seem well matched to the material. In breathing life into so many souls, from merry revelers to a scrounging charwoman, he blesses every one. 

A Christmas Carol. Nederlander Theatre (Broadway). By Charles Dickens. Adapted by Jefferson Mays, Susan Lyons and Michael Arden. Directed by Arden. With Mays. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission. 

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A Christmas Carol | Photograph: Courtesy A Christmas Carol

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


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