Bradley Whitford Gives ‘A Christmas Carol’ New Liveliness at the Ahmanson

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A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens’ novella, “A Christmas Carol,” is as much a seasonal staple as ‘”The Nutcracker” and treats with peppermint. There have been countless versions of the classic tale. However, Bradley Whitford manages to give Ebenezer Scrooge and the “A Christmas Carol” staging at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre until Jan. 1 a new liveliness. Of course, on opening night, the cast and audience were all clearly gleeful to return to live theater at the venue, which had been dark for more than 280 COVID-clouded days.

As adapted by Jack Thorne (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”), this production of “A Christmas Carol” restores the social conscience Dickens’ intended about 170 years ago. The author was reportedly enraged by his observations of life in industrialized England, its child labor and tremendous wealth inequity. Thorne’s version, which won five Tony Awards, enhances those concerns while focusing on how Scrooge became so hard-hearted and alone, as well as leading the audience to his eventual transformation.

The ghost story evolves like Dumbledore’s pensieve sessions that taught Harry Potter about Tom Riddle’s past. Thorne brings to life Scrooge’s unhappy childhood with a tyrannical, drunk father; his lost love and his avoidance of relationships to life through the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Thorne made all three of those ghosts female here, providing their lessons to Scrooge a maternal or sisterly tone of empathy mixed with disapproval.

The richer backstory – and Scrooge’s dismay over who he became – adds more depth to the character’s redemption. Whitford transforms over the evening. His character and evolves. He goes the curmudgeonly miser to the hurt little boy looking for acceptance. Then, upon finding out he did not miss Christmas, Scrooge displays great joy and energy as he embraces life, celebrates the holiday and strives to share the wealth.

Extraordinary ‘A Christmas Carol’ Ensemble

Bradley Whitford’sliveliness as Ebenezer Scrooge is infectious. His normal charm peaks through occasionally in his most miserly moments or recalling past regrets over the woman he loved and family members lost. He shines the most, however, with infectious joy inviting the audience to share in his second chance at life.

Kate Burton and Alex Newell shine as the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, respectively. Burton offers a pragmatic ghost letting Scrooge absorb all she has to share without sounding preachy. Newell’s thick Caribbean patois makes the A Christmas Carolcharacter hard to understand at times (and seems out of place), but the singing voice he displayed in “Glee” and “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” is glorious. Cade Robertson was appropriately adorable as Tiny Tim, a part he alternates with Sebastian Ortiz. As the overworked, undervalued Bob Cratchit, Dashiell Eaves offer an emotionally touching portrayal. In Thorne’s version of “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge’s beloved sister Little Fan (quietly played by Glory Yepassis-Zembrou) is a bigger role than in most productions.

Adding to Atmosphere

This “A Christmas Carol” received rave reviews on Broadway late in 2019 and took home five Tony Awards for the pandemic-shuddered 2020 season. It’s the first play to receive a Tony for Best Original Score (Christopher Nightingale). Yes, there were fewer scores that year. However, the arrangements of carols, particularly the cast’s bell ringing numbers, noticeably enhance the show. The reasons for the play’s awards for Best Scenic Design (Rob Howell), Best Lighting Design (Hugh Vanstone) Best Costume Design (Rob Howell), and Best Sound Design (Simon Baker) stand out too. Howell’s set features piles of lantern rubble and the heavy chains like the ones that adorn Jacob Marley. They sit behind doors that move to create Scrooge’s bedroom and office. Vanstone’s lighting features hundreds of actual lanterns hanging from the rafters and moving lights that propel Scrooge and the ghosts.

Whitford recently portrayed Stephen Sondheim in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” After the show on opening night, he honored the recently deceased composer with his remarks. Then, the cast once again used those lovely bells to bid “Silent Night” to him.

Whitford and Co. will be presenting “A Christmas Carol” at the Ahmanson until New Year’s Day. A second U.S. production of this “A Christmas Carol” is currently at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre.

Written by Dyanne Weiss


Performance December 1, 2021

Center Theatre Group: A Christmas Carol

Featured and Top Image: Bradley Whitford and Kate Burton in “A Christmas Carol.” Photo credit: Joan Marcus, courtesy Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre

Inset Image of Alex Newell in “A Christmas Carol.” Photo credit: Joan Marcus, courtesy Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre

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