Broadway’s One-Mays Christmas Carol, is Sumptuously Staged, But Lacks an Engaging Middle
An abrupt crash leads us into the pitch-black darkness of the Nederlander Theatre. A voice beacons us to sit up and lean into this one-man version of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, adapted by its star performer, Jefferson Mays (Broadway’s Oslo; The Music Man), alongside Susan Lions (I Am My Own Wife; assoc. director of May/international tours), and director Michael Arden (Broadway/Deaf West’s Spring Awakening). As he did before, in the 2020 filming of this traditional Christmas story, Mays, the man of a thousand faces and characterizations, candle-lights the way, engaging and enticing us forward with his infallible charm, into the unique and somewhat engaging telling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, commonly known as A Christmas Carol. A novella, first published in 1843, it recounts the tale and transformation of an elderly miser, Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge. He is as well-known a character to the masses as Jacob Marley’s ghost, the deceased former business partner, who comes a-knocking on Scrooge’s door late one Christmas Eve, dragging his chains and sad soul for a fireside chat. In hopes of giving him the gift of redemption.
Mays, as he does, dives in with a quirky force. He’s the man at the center, playing the iconic Scrooge with a scorn that resonates, as well as every other character he comes in contact with on his epic journey through his past, present, and future Christmases. Delivering Dickens’ tale with a clever solitary presence that is quite astonishing, to say the least, he finds intrigue and interest in most moments, but sadly not all. Almost completely engulfed by the dark shadows that envelop the stage, thanks to the strong production design conceived by Arden and set and costume designer Dane Laffrey (Broadway’s Once on This Island), along with lighting by the talented Ben Stanton (Broadway’s The Rose Tattoo), Scrooge, as played most wisely by Mays, is as solitary as a rotten oyster, void of the pearl that might give it some beauty. He draws us in, shifting effortlessly from Uncle to nephew with an ease that hypnotizes. He climbs up the rotating stairs in the cold darkness of his dwelling, eager to bring us to the moment when the chains that bind us rattle and clang their way in with melancholy and fear.
A Christmas Carol has gotten off to a grand good start, breaking the mold and laying the groundwork for something truly special to spiral forward. But for some reason, when Marley takes a seat, the elegant structuring falters, disengaging us from its meticulously crafted web. The piece slows down and stumbles, even when the shadows of Christmases past dance in the warm glow of Scrooge’s former employer. It’s beautifully staged, I will say that wholeheartedly, with laughter and dancing echoing miraculously throughout the darkness, thanks to sound designer Joshua D. Reid (Signature’s Jerry Springer: The Opera) and projections by Lucy MacKinnon (Broadway’s Kimberly Akimbo), but the heralding of the three unique spirits, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come doesn’t sing with the magical illusions that it did when I watched the filmed version back in 2020. It was a joint project between TBD Pictures, La Jolla Playhouse, and On The Stage, and when I first saw it, I thought it was the most exemplary telling to go down those snowy lanes of Dickens’ classic. It was A Christmas Carol unlike any other I’ve ever been witness to, filmed live on stage at New York’s United Palace, chosen by the crew in order to “preserve the power of the theatrical storytelling.” And indeed, it did just that. with a grand flourish, courtesy of the director of photography, Maceo Bishop (Uncut Gems), unfolding the tale with a wise aplomb, delivering a well-needed outcome known to pretty much all of us.
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: A Dolls House: Arian Moayed and Jessica Chastain
I went with T2C’s editor to A Dolls House, which inspired this caricature. You can read Suzanna’s review of the show here.
T2C Sends Our Prayers to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lea Michele
Saturday, March 25, 2023
A Statement From Andrew Lloyd Webber
I am shattered to have to announce that my beloved elder son Nick died a few hours ago in Basingstoke Hospital. His whole family is gathered together and we are all totally bereft.
Thank you for all your thoughts during this difficult time.
The 75-year-old Oscar-winning composer son Nicholas followed in his father’s footsteps and was a successful composer in his own right, having written Fat Friends The Musical. He was married to musician Polly Wiltshire, who appeared on the soundtrack of his father’s 2019 movie Cats.
During his career, Nicholas also scored music for an adaption of The Little Prince as well as composing numerous TV and film scores, including for the BBC1 drama Loves, Lies, and Records.
Nicholas previously spoke about making his own way in the theatre world away from his famous family name in a 2011 unearthed interview.
He said he wanted to be ‘judged on his own merits’ so dropped his surname when working to see what the reaction would be.
Our hearts and prayers go out to his family.
Also on Saturday Lea Michele updated her fans on the status of her two-year-old’s health via her Instagram after he was hospitalized earlier this week. Her son Ever was in the hospital, but is now out due to a ‘scary health issue. She posted a picture backstage in her dressing room ahead of her Broadway performance in Funny Girl. Lea had been out to focus on her family.
“I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for just so much love and support this week. I really really appreciated it”.
Parade: A Musical That Asks Us Do We Have The Eyes And Ears To See.
Micaela Diamond and Ben Platt Photo by Joan Marcus
I have always loved Jason Robert Brown’s score for Parade. “You Don’t Know This Man,” “This Is Not Over Yet” and the wonderfully romantic “All the Wasted Time” are just the tip of the iceberg for music that stirs your soul and tells a tale of heartbreak. There is a reason this score won the Tony Award in 1999.
The musical now playing on Broadway dramatizes the 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank (Ben Platt), who was accused and convicted of raping and murdering a thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan (Erin Rose Doyle). The trial was sensationalized by the media, newspaper reporter Britt Craig (Jay Armstrong Johnson) and Tom Watson (Manoel Feliciano), an extremist right-wing newspaper aroused antisemitic tensions in Atlanta and the U.S. state of Georgia. When Frank’s death sentence is commuted to life in prison thanks to his wife Lucille (Micaela Diamond), Leo was transferred to a prison in Milledgeville, Georgia, where a lynching party seized and kidnapped him. Frank was taken to Phagan’s hometown of Marietta, Georgia, and he was hanged from an oak tree.
The telling of this horrid true tale begins with the lush ode to the South in “The Old Red Hills of Home.” Leo has just moved from Brooklyn to in Marietta, where his wife is from and he has been given the job as as a manager at the National Pencil Co. He feels out of place as he sings “I thought that Jews were Jews, but I was wrong!” On Confederate Memorial Day as Lucille plans a picnic, Leo goes to work. In the meantime Mary goes to collect her pay from the pencil factory. The next day Leo is arrested on suspicion of killing Mary, whose body is found in the building. The police also suspect Newt Lee (Eddie Cooper), the African-American night watchman who discovered the body, but he inadvertently directs Starnes’ suspicion to Leo.
Across town, reporter Britt Craig see this story as (“Big News”). Mary’s suitor Frankie Epps (Jake Pederson), swears revenge on Mary’s killer, as does the reporter Watson. Governor John Slaton (Sean Allan Krill) pressures the local prosecutor Hugh Dorsey (the terrific smarmy Paul Alexander Nolan) to get to the bottom of the whole affair. Dorsey, an ambitious politician sees Leo as he ticket to being the Governor and though there are other suspects, he willfully ignores them and goes after Leo.
The trial of Leo Frank is presided over by Judge Roan (Howard McMillan). A series of witnesses, give trumped up evidence which was clearly is fed to them by Dorsey. Frankie testifies, falsely, that Mary said Leo “looks at her funny.” Her three teenage co-workers, Lola, Essie and Monteen (Sophia Manicone, Emily Rose DeMartino, Ashlyn Maddox), collaborate hauntingly as they harmonize their testimony (“The Factory Girls”). In a fantasy sequence, Leo becomes the lecherous seducer (“Come Up to My Office”). Testimony is heard from Mary’s mother (Kelli Barrett ) (“My Child Will Forgive Me”) and Minnie McKnight (Danielle Lee Greaves)before the prosecution’s star witness, Jim Conley (Alex Joseph Grayson ), takes the stand. He claims that he witnessed the murder and helped Leo conceal the crime (“That’s What He Said”). Leo is given the opportunity to deliver a statement (“It’s Hard to Speak My Heart”), but it is not enough. He is found guilty and sentenced to hang. The crowd breaks out into a jubilant circus.
Act 1, is not as strong as it should have been. I have attended three different incarnations, the last being with Jeremy Jordan as Leo and Joshua Henry as Jim in 2015. Part of the problem is Michael Arden’s direction. Instead of allowing his performers to act, he has them pantomime, as the solo goes forth. “Come Up to My Office” was not as haunting as in past productions. The same can be said of “That’s What He Said”. Who’s stands out in the first act is Jake Pederson as Frankie and Charlie Webb as the Young Soldier who sings “The Old Red Hills of Home.”
In Act 2, Lucille finds Governor Slaton at a party (the hypnotic “Pretty Music” sung wonderfully by Krill) and advocates for Leo. Watson approaches Dorsey and tells him he will support his bid for governor, as Judge Roan also offers his support. The governor agrees to re-open the case, as Leo and Lucille find hope. Slaton realizes what we all knew that the witnesses were coerced and lied and that Dorsey is at the helm. He agrees to commute Leo’s sentence to life in prison in Milledgeville, Georgia, which ends his political career. The citizens of Marietta, led by Dorsey and Watson, are enraged and riot. Leo is transferred to a prison work-farm. Lucille visits, and he realizes his deep love for his wife and how much he has underestimated her (“All the Wasted Time”). With hope in full blaze Lucille leaves as a party masked men kidnap Leo and take him to Marietta. They demand he confess and hang him from an oak tree.
In Act Two Parade comes together with heart and soul. Diamond, who shines brightly through out the piece is radiant, and her duets with Platt are romantic and devastating. Platt comes into his own and his huge following is thrilled to be seeing him live. Alex Joseph Grayson’s also nails his Second Act songs.
Dane Laffrey’s set works well with the lighting by Heather Gilbert.
Frank’s case was reopened in 2019 and is still ongoing.
Parade has multiple messages and the question is will audiences absorb it. I am so glad this show is on Broadway, making us think and see. This is a must see.
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Parade: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W 45th Street.