Review: Old Vic's 'A Christmas Carol' Makes for a Holiday Treat for LA Audiences

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday December 7, 2021

Bradley Whitford and Kate Burton in "A Christmas Carol"
Bradley Whitford and Kate Burton in "A Christmas Carol"  

Direct from London's Old Vic, the Jack Thorne adaptation, directed by Matthew Warchus, adds familiar music and simple, yet beautiful, set design to give audiences a holiday treat.
 
Starring Bradley Whitford (who recently portrayed Steven Sondheim in the film adaptation of "Tick Tick... Boom!") stars as Ebenezer Scrooge, the ghastly and grumpy money man who 'bah-humbugs' just about everything in his path. After sneering through Christmas Eve and not allowing poor Bob Cratchit (Dashiel Eaves) time with his children, Ebenezer is quickly visited by the ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley (Chris Hoch), who tells him he will be visited by three other ghosts that will show him the error of his ways.
 
Rather than the usual visages from most classic adaptations, these three ghosts are all women dressed in patchwork dresses (that oddly make them look bloody), who show him his Past (Kate Burton "Spring Awakening"), Present (Alex Newell), and Future (Glory Yepassis-Zembrou). Throughout the night he will be confronted with a myriad of memories and things unseen, involving the love of his life Belle (Sarah Hunt), his emotionally abusive father (also Hoch), and the Cratchit family that he's neglected to get to know. But here, it is Ebenezer's relationship with Belle they is at the forefront, ending the show with a nice coda.
 
All of this is familiar to most, but what makes this production special is the set design and an upping of the emotional stakes. The stage is roofed with a ceiling of warmly lit lanterns that extend out into the audience and glow brighter or more dim depending on the scene. Smoke and lighting help the simplicity of the staging and set pieces by giving the show the otherworldly feel it demands.
 
There is a brief tonal shift after Ebenezer figures out he's been a jerk for so long that involves interaction with the audience, and a Christmas Day feast that references some anachronisms. It's fun, but a little gear-shifting.
 
While it might seem that it will be a musical, this "A Christmas Carol" is not, but there are sequences with bell-ringing carols and a few refrains here and there. What's a plus is having Alex Newell (NBC's "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" and Broadway's "Once on this Island") who can belt out a tune like some of the all-time greats.

Whitford is perfect here. Dressed in a maroon velvet coat and achingly stomping around the stage, he transitions well from bastard to best friend. Burton as Christmas Past is lovely, and Newell steals every scene he's in. The company provides terrific support handling a myriad of duties and roles, and the production design is beautiful and unique.
 
"A Christmas Carol" doesn't rewrite the book, and there is nothing overtly novel here, but it's a charming and gentle entrance back to the theatre. And heck, there's even snow!
 

"A Christmas Carol" runs through January 1, 2022 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. For more information and for tickets visitwww.centertheatregroup.org.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.