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A convincing ‘Christmas Carol’

‘Tis the season to be sentimental. And there’s no better way to bask in the holiday mood than to see Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton.Once again, the annual production is warmer than a thick-logged fireplace in a happy home.…excellent special effects..sensitive direction… spirited choreography. It’s Rob Ashford’s third time with the show and Unger’s sixth, but neither are remotely stale.One of the best aspects of “A Christmas Carol” is the dozen or so children that dot its cast – hard-working kids who aren’t remotely interested in being cute, but are intent on giving sincere performances. As for Tiny Tim, he’s most endearingly played – God bless him for the way he says, “God bless us, everyone!” Parents should certainly bring their children — and themselves — to see “A Christmas Carol” for the entertainment, the spectacle, and the message.
‘A Christmas Carol’

By Stuart Duncan

McCarter Theatre delights with its annual offering of this Charles Dickens story.
The current adaptation on McCarter’s stage is directed by Michael Unger who surprises everyone with new insights.So, it is not a new production, nor is it unfamiliar territory to many of the large company but this year is something very special. This is an evening that soars from the first moments.Unger’s production permits us to use our intelligence to watch as Scrooge’s meanness turns first to distress and then to humanity.

Unger apparently has notes as to how to “tweak” the show next year. This was the best yet — I can’t wait to see how it might be improved. And, while we are at it, when is some other regional theater in the area going to discover the magic that Unger exudes?

A `magical evening’Of Trenton
By TED OTTEN
As the huge cast of the gorgeous revival of “A Christmas Carol” danced and waved during their curtain call, the opening-night audience at McCarter accorded them a vociferous and well-deserved standing ovation. It’s a magical evening, even for those who’ve seen it before.Director Michael Unger always manages a few changes, a few new takes that surprise and delight as much as those special moments audiences have come to treasure.
This grand production – with towering, multilevel sets by Ming Cho Lee, magnificent costumes by Jess Goldstein, sprightly choreography by Rob Ashford, and brooding, atmospheric lighting by Stephen Strawbridge – also proves the old adage about there being no small parts. Even the tiniest participant is totally convincing and committed, and many in the cast make their few lines or brief moments on stage worth noticing.
This revival lives up to the production’s high reputation from past years and would be a fine present to give yourself or your loved ones as a holiday treat.

REVIEWS FROM THE 2002 VERSION

Princeton Town Topics

A Christmas Carol still resonates strongly in McCarter theatre’s impressively fresh, energetic and lavish production.It deftly blends the humor, the emotion, the dramatic tension and the mystery of Dickens’ original, into a thoroughly entertaining, heartwarming event.This production has the audience in the palm of its hand.

It performs a skillful balancing act between the dark and the light.It captures the chilling ghost story, but is also funny and heartwarming, without sugarcoating the powerful moral and social issues. Mr. Unger and McCarter Theatre have spared neither expense, resources nor painstaking efforts to bring to life the supernatural effects, the rich Christmas pageantry and the tragedy of A Christmas Carol.The blue-ribbon design team obviously worked overtime to create the changing moods of this dazzlingly imaginative production.The whole ensemble is first-rate, from the dozen focused, poised children to the seasoned professional performers.

So cheers to Charles Dickens and to McCarter Theatre, Michael Unger and his cast and creative team for reminding us that the world and spirit of Dickens are also our world and spirit.At last Saturday’s sold-out matinee, this show clearly worked its magic and cast its spell on the youngest members of the audience, the most skeptical old curmudgeons and all in between.

Princeton Packet

For five years, Michael Unger has directed the production with great intelligence and genuine creativity [and has] tweaked a bit each year.Everyone has been coming closer and closer to perfection.The final scene of the evening continues to bring sniffles to every eye in the house.

Newark Star Ledger

“A Christmas Carol” at the McCarter Theatre still has the ability to surprise, charm, and — best of all – enormously affect even the Scroogiest of theatergoers.The annual production at the Princeton playhouse was always a good show, but the revamping that took place two years ago made it even better.Director Unger fills the stage with honest emotions as well as [many] worthy actors.

The Times of Trenton

…a gigantic, remarkable two-hour adventure.A spectacular production…

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REVIEWS FROM THE 2001 VERSION

McCarter Theatre stages a stunning version of the Charles Dickens classic.

Princeton Packet – Stuart Duncan

It has been two full decades since A Christmas Carol first made its holiday appearance at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J. We have had four separate adaptations of the Charles Dickens novelette, numerous Scrooges, Bob Cratchits and Spirits of Christmas past, present and future.
And now, perfection. Last year’s full overhaul of the 1843 classic by director Michael Unger, using an adaptation by David Thompson, has been lovingly tweaked into an evening in which the perfect balance of Dickensian fidelity and modern theatricality has been achieved.
Above all, the company is finely tuned in a production that will sweep you into the Christmas season, leave you gasping in admiration and on your feet, cheering.
There are many subtle changes, all equally powerful.Marley no longer flies but appears magically in a high-backed armchair, offering his message without all the moaning and groaning. It is chilling. Indeed, it is Scrooge who will fly somewhat later, as he allows the Spirit of Christmas Present to guide him. Dickens would have loved the symbolism.
The scene between young Scrooge at the orphanage and his sister, Fan, is devastating as it touches the heart. The Fezziwig party finds a sense of real joy never attained before.There are fine performances throughout.

It is when we reach the final scenes that one realizes just how effectively this production has been staged.Oh yes, perfection.

McCarter stages a heartwarming ‘Carol’

Times Of Trenton – by Ted Otten
McCarter Theatre Company’s annual gift to its public is a gigantic adventure with towering multilevel sets by Ming Cho Lee, gorgeous costumes by Jess Goldstein, rich and atmospheric lighting by Stephen Strawbridge, a superlative score by Michael Starobin, and brightly varied direction by Michael Unger.
It all runs more smoothly than it did last year, and some new effects provide enough novelty so that even those familiar with the story and this production will find something startling and rewarding.The show is a delight and can keep an audience of all ages enthralled.
John Christopher Jones, returns as Scrooge and around him, in an almost overwhelming array of small but beautifully detailed supporting roles, is a fairly wide cross section of humanity, and Unger uses character contrast to great effect.
Yes, it’s a familiar story, but when it’s this well done, it’s simply grand.

A welcome gift at Christmas from Scrooge and Tiny Tim
Newark Star-Ledger By PETER FILICHIA
For the 11th consecutive year, McCarter Theatre in Princeton is offering David Thompson’s adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.” But it’s still as fresh as the Rockefeller Center tree.
Christopher Jones’ Scrooge makes a splendid transition and his final scene with Tiny Tim will bring tears to many eyes, yet it doesn’t cheat to get them.Director Michael Unger fills the stage with honest emotions — as well as other worthy actors. They populate Ming Cho Lee’s myriad settings, which suggest both merrie olde and miserable old London. There’s wit in the way that he has designed Scrooge’s office and home — tilted and askew, as is the miser’s life.
In the middle of the Christmas Past sequence, Scrooge’s sister gives him a crystal music box, telling him, “Now you can have Christmas whenever you want it.” Alas, audiences can only have this “Christmas Carol” through the end of the month. They shouldn’t squander their chances to see it.

God bless us, everyone: McCarter’s annual ‘Christmas Carol’ doesn’t disappoint
Home News Tribune – By C.W. Walker
There’s more than enough to satisfy audiences of all ages in this superior production of the perennial chestnut. Director Michael Unger has tweaked and polished the production so it now runs like a well-oiled music box.

Unger features some very clever visual jokes, most of these are connected to the deliciously spooky special effects. Ming Cho Lee’s magnificent set, which blends a realistic cityscape with Victorian whimsy in a swirl of snow, smoke and fog, continues to astonish.

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REVIEWS FROM THE PREMIERE OF THE 2000 VERSION
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This glorious two hours of spectacle and joy gets it dead right!
In “A Christmas Carol,” Angel Desai, left, as Fan, speaks to Kyle Moore, right, as young Ebenezer Scrooge, while John Christopher Jones, as the elder Scrooge, looks on.
In A Christmas Carol, Angel Desai, left, as Fan, speaks to Kyle Moore, right, as young Ebenezer Scrooge, while John Christopher Jones, as the elder Scrooge, looks on.
Staff photo by Frank Wojciechowski
Dickens is back. In its third production of A Christmas Carol over the past two decades, McCarter Theatre in Princeton has gotten it dead right.A new adaptation by Mr. Thompson, brilliantly directed by Michael Unger, which takes us back to the era of the 1840s, but makes the connections with our lives today through subtle touches that hit the mind and heart like the stings of autumn wasps.As never before, we see just how much of a classic A Christmas Carol is and why it has lasted all these generations.

The story of Scrooge, his awakening and redemption was not at all surreal to the London of the 1840s. It was understood that Scrooge had at hand the tools of his transformation at all times; it took Christmas eve, and the ghost of Marley to bring them to his attention. Director Unger instinctively understands this point and incorporates it into his flow. The Marley scene becomes less of a “flying by Foy” gimmick and more adult in its presentation.Further, Scrooge meets his spirits with more maturity and less childish behavior; the Cratchit family scenes are more poignant than previously; the Fezziwig scenes more meaningful.

Director Unger and his superb company are not playing for laughs, but rather, the hearts of the audience — and their minds.

John Christopher Jones is an extraordinary Scrooge.His awakening is a genuine astonishment. But, most of all, it is his heart that seems to actually break at the sight of a Cratchit table without Tiny Tim.The others in this cast are just as impressive: Simon Brooking is a strong Bob Cratchit; Caren Browning a warm and moving Mrs. Cratchit. James Ludwig and Judy Reyes seem just right as nephew Fred and his new wife. Robert Ari plays Fezziwig without ever resorting to foppishness.Kim Brockington returns as Christmas Present, and we are left with the feeling no one else should ever play the role.

The set design, by Ming Cho Lee, is a statement of its own. Scrooge’s office and Fezziwig’s establishment, both two-level structures, are presented at a 10 percent tilt — not a cartoon approach, but rather as if in a dream — thereby clearly identifying past and present as ephemeral.

At the end of a glorious two hours of spectacle and joy, we are left with a final image: Scrooge gives Tiny Tim the music box that years earlier his sister Fan had given to him. The years melt away, past has met the present and the spirits of good have won the battle. The crippled young boy limps over to the kneeling Scrooge and throws his small arms around him. In return, the old sinner can only slowly, ever so slowly, return the hug. The heart sings even as the eyes tear.

– Stuart Duncan, The Princeton Packet
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Death and Rebirth, Darkness and Light, Sorrow and Joy Share the Stage in McCarter’s New “A Christmas Carol”

McCarter Theatre’s new production of A Christmas Carol, adapted by David Thompson and directed by Michael Unger, strikes an extraordinarily effective balance between the somber and the sublime.It’s a production that will move audiences of all ages as it entertains with its rich humor, its vibrant visual effects, its rousing original music and choreography.

Mr. Unger’s clever, resourceful staging presents a cornucopia of delightful surprises, both human and supernatural, throughout — even for those who have seen many previous renditions of this classic.At different moments partaking (but never to excess) of the farcical, the melodramatic, the morbid and the sentimental; this production wins over its multi-age audience early on and keeps us squarely in the palm of its hand to manipulate at will.

It is the visual and auditory extravaganza here that takes the place of the narrative voice, and Mr. Unger and McCarter Theatre have spared neither expense nor resources in their creation of these multiple scenes and varied natural and supernatural moments.

Mr. Unger brings together this mammoth production with apparent ease and grace, as the pace flows smoothly and rapidly from scene to scene, the cast of more than 30 interweaves convincingly, and the frequent surprises and special effects astonish and delight.

From the carefully rehearsed, thoroughly focused children’s ensemble to the seasoned, distinguished professional actors playing the principal roles, the cast is consistently, impressively strong.

– Donald Gilpin, Princeton Town Topics
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McCarter’s ‘Christmas Carol’ a new holiday feast

McCarter Theatre Company’s third major production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” its annual holiday gift to theater-goers, has arrived, and what a luscious feast it is!

David Thompson’s intelligent stage version of Dickens’ short novel has been retained from the previous production, and the script now seems leaner and faster — an admirable effort by its superb cast and gracefully detailed direction by Michael Unger.The new elements are successful, especially Jess Goldstein’s lavishly beautiful period costumes, spirited and natural choreography by Naomi Goldberg, and a lush and varied score capped with a haunting music box theme by Michael Starobin.

Unger’s warmly naturalistic direction often works in spite of the severe and bleak sets, but perhaps that is part of a larger portrait of human pluck triumphing over urban harshness.

The supporting cast, including many affable children, is extraordinary, working with zeal and enthusiasm. There are some exceptionally good supporting performances and some nifty special effects (like Jacob Marley’s being swallowed up by a wall), but the most impressive thing about the show is that Scrooge’s story can still touch the heart, year after year, viewing after viewing. When a smiling Scrooge can say, “Merry Christmas!” and really mean it, the world rejoices.

– Ted Otten, The Times of Trenton
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McCarter “Carol” An Eyeful

McCarter Theatre has mounted an all-new production of “A Christmas Carol” that makes a lasting impression.Memorable are the sets by Ming Cho Lee and the surprises he and the director, Michael Unger, offer in the special-effects department.To say that the two men use the whole stage may not convey what an eyeful this production is.

They use the whole stage — horizontally and vertically — with imposing two-story facades, characters who poke out of balconies, a ghost that towers over everything, even a Peter-Pan-like moment.And the images aren’t just big; they’re challenging, with odd geometry and foreboding colors.Mixed in are a few special effects — keep an eye on Scrooge’s door knocker and, later, his headstone — that underscore why theatre can be so much more powerful than film.These days, when movies use computer images to create whatever reality is needed, it’s only a live illusion onstage that can generate a “How did they do that?”

– Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times
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Making Spirits Bright
Revamped ‘Christmas Carol’ is a sparkling gift for the season

“The McCarter Theatre has traded in Christmas Past in favor of Christmas Present — and the result is a wonderful present for Mercer County audiences.For the first time in nine years, the Princeton playhouse has revamped its annual airing of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol.’The script is still the one by David Thompson but the playwright has made a few trims, all of them for the better.Virtually everything else is totally new — most of the performers, many of the costumes, much of the music, and certainly all of the sets.They’re all worthy improvements…Ming Cho Lee’s sets are impressive all night long…The entire evening soars.Poignant… Touching…Scrooge’s final scene with Tiny Tim will bring tears to many eyes.While theatregoers may be awfully busy finishing their shopping for Christmas, they should take time out to order tickets to “A Christmas Carol.”
– Peter Filichia, Newark Star-Ledger

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McCarter Theater’s first new production in nine years of “A Christmas Carol” can hardly be called revisionist. Yet in the artistic hands of director Michael Unger and set designer Ming Cho Lee it is a more formidably realized vision of Charles Dickens’ classic story and of Victorian London than we’ve seen before.

Without sacrificing the requisite uplifting, humorous, and inspiring elements of the favorite holiday tale, which is now darker, mustier, and more surreal, we are now effectively transported to a very real place and time in history. And whatever sprucing up David Thompson has done to his very literate adaptation, with well-placed musical moments, it is tailored to bring more respectful consideration to the Dickens original.

The impressive scene, even as we enter the theater, affords us a look at the tall, gray sturdy-looking office buildings that make up London’s financial district in 1843.And these buildings’ brooding shapes, leaning nightmarishly over the young and old, rich and the poor, shoppers and strollers, peddlers and bankers, bustling about preparing for Christmas day, are certainly a mere warning of the scary images yet to come.

As the massive settings glide silently on their diagonal path to center stage, the lives of those who have been affected by Scrooge, both past and present, are brought into vibrant relief.Director Michael Unger and designer Ming Cho Lee have re-addressed “A Christmas Carol” and re-affirmed its place as the perfect holiday show.

– Simon Saltzman, US 1

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FOLLOWING ARE REVIEWS FROM THE 1998 AND 1999 VERSIONS

“…here’s the real thing, classically and classily conveyed… Director Michael Unger… doesn’t make the evening seem mummified. He’s infused the work with spirit and drive, and makes a winter perennial seem younger than springtime. The production got the two ultimate compliments that all shows want. After Act One ended, there was not only applause, but energetic chatter that showed the crowd couldn’t wait to talk about the show. [And] when the house lights went down for the beginning of Act Two, the curtain hadn’t even yet arisen, but the audience was already applauding. God bless us, everyone, “A Christmas Carol” is mandatory theatre-going.”