Singing a New Christmas Carol: McCarter Theatre is debuting a new production of its holiday perennial

From left: Frank X as Marley’s ghost

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From left: Frank X as Marley’s ghost

By Erica Chayes Wida
   This Christmas, McCarter Theatre Center is doing something a little different with its holiday tradition. After 16 seasons of an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” that audiences had come to know, love, and anticipate every year, a reinvented version will take the stage this month, Dec. 9-31.
   With sets and costumes being taken out and worn yearly, every production company must reach the decision whether to restore an existing production or make an entirely new one. McCarter’s artistic team, including Artistic Director and Resident Playwright Emily Mann, Managing Director Timothy Shields, Resident Producer Debbie Bisno, and Adam Immerwahr, who is directing this new version of “A Christmas Carol,” decided to make the change.
   ”’Christmas Carol’ is a vital way we introduce generations of theatergoers in this community to live theater,” Mr. Immerwahr says. “It’s important to refresh that and make it current — give them something they’ll be seeing for their future.”
   He adds that discussions about recreating the play had been in the works for some years.
   ”When I was working with our designers who imagined the new version, we went back into the novella to use that as a source of inspiration,” Mr. Immerwahr says. “Dickens is so imaginative and evocative in how he creates this astonishing world of London and Ebenezer. It’s an incredible source of stylistic imagery.”
   Some of the changes to look forward to, according to Mr. Immerwahr, are a shift toward a real Dickensian London. To give audiences the feeling of 1800s London, this “Christmas Carol” will feature authentic period carols as well as a particularly, at least in the “Bah! Humbug” beginning, gritty set design.
   ”It’s part of the journey,” Mr. Immerwahr says. “As Scrooge every night finds redemption, we find ourselves creating Christmas fresh. The beginning is more in the world of Jekyll and Hyde, and by the end of the play, it’s snowing. We’ve arrived at Christmas morning.”
   The set design and actors also differ from previous productions. While the script and story remain the same — McCarter continues to use David Thompson’s adaptation — scenes were altered and casting was expanded. Some scenes that once took place in Scrooge’s bedroom will now take place in a grand entrance with a giant stairway.
   In terms of casting, McCarter has always welcomed community members ages 13 and under to audition for younger roles. This year, however, the theater has broadened its call to all ages, and has filled the stage with a number of area individuals to play roles both big and small.
   ”The single largest change — or rather way in — was to realize it’s not just about one man’s redemption but how his actions can affect an entire community,” Mr. Immerwahr says. “How do you convey that?
   ”We couldn’t find a better way to convey it then by actually inviting members of the community to come on stage. From age 3 and up of every gender, ethnicity, job, the (community) helps us realize how important faith, love, and the possibility of redemption is for all of us.”
   The community and young ensemble feature members from around the area, from Mercer to Bucks counties, two of whom were cast in major roles. Mimi Francis of North Brunswick is the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Kelsey Carroll of Allentown plays the roles of Fan and Miss Kate.
   Professional actors with Broadway, regional, and international credits, are also featured in the production, some of whom are taking McCarter’s stage for the first time.
   Greg Wood, who is playing Ebenezer Scrooge for his first time says, “It was fun finding and exploring my inner Scrooge. We all have one to a greater or lesser degree. Most of us have him/her successfully hidden away. So to get to release him has been great fun.”
   Mr. Wood is eager to see the longtime “Christmas Carol” audience’s reaction to a new production.
   So is Mr. Immerwahr.
   ”The people who have come for ‘A Christmas Carol’ year after year are going to be — I think, I hope — delighted,” Mr. Immerwahr says. “It’s the same story they love, being told in a (new) way. Every moment will be a surprise.”
“A Christmas Carol” will be performed at McCarter Theatre, 91 University Place, Princeton, Dec. 9-31. For tickets and information, go to www.mccarter.org or call 609-258-2787.