When working with such dreadfully familiar, albeit first-class, material as “A Christmas Carol,” the challenge for an adapter and director is to make the story fresh. Artistic director Michael Baron, who adapted and directs the production, succeeds on every point.
His top-notch team of designers has given the production a, well, Dickensian look that’s gritty joy to behold. Entering the Plaza Theatre, you’ll notice Lee Savage’s set design reflecting the 19th-century London skyline in silhouette under Ariel Benjamin’s sensitive lighting. “Carol” literally covers a lot of ground, and Savage’s set is efficiently designed for quick changes and many special effects.
Jonathan Beck Reed is a scowling Ebenezer Scrooge who has no time for do-gooders collecting for charity. He’s a hard-nosed businessman, not a psychopath, so when he is transfigured at the end, he is believable. The penitent Scrooge’s reunion with his nephew, Fred (Matthew Alvin Brown, who also plays young Scrooge), is truly affecting. After encountering the Ghost of Christmas Past, he can hardly utter “humbug.”
The supporting cast is consistently superior. Tom Huston Orr plays much put-upon clerk Bob Cratchit with extraordinary humbleness. Thomas E. Cunningham makes a great Fezziwig and a scary Jacob Marley, while Brenda Williams delights as Mrs. Fezziwig.
The ghosts who haunt Scrooge range from giddy to imposing. As the Ghost of Christmas Past, Jayme Petete never quite gets her feet on the ground, and it’s a great effect. Mandy Jiran sprinkles Christmas cheer all over as the Ghost of Christmas Present. The mysterious Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is downright spooky.
The show employs several young actors, whose work is notably impressive. Several traditional carols are integrated into the show so seamlessly that when the characters take up a tune, it sounds like the most natural thing in the world.
Baron’s adaptation sticks close to Dickens. It should appeal to anyone who loves theater.