Broadway revitalizes an old chestnut tree

The most revealing version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in a long time is lit by just two small candles for the first five minutes.

Director Michael Arden’s sizzling version, which premiered Monday on Broadway, is more of a staging of ones and twos. One actor, Jefferson Mays, plays almost every role and there is always only a few pieces of furniture on stage (Dane Laffrey is the set designer).

theater criticism

One hour and 35 minutes without a break; At the Nederlander Theater, 208 W. 41st St.

But what’s so striking about this streamlined “Carol” is the grandeur it evokes with simplicity – and how lively the show is, quite literally.

Dickens’ story of Ebenezer Scrooge, who goes from miser to wiser, is carried around the country every year in outdated productions reminiscent of old stagings of Puccini’s operas that have endured well beyond the death of their director. Usually lugging around to “A Christmas Carol” is like going to church where you have to pay for the wine.

Not this time. What’s currently on Broadway is livelier, but not modernized per se. The rapid-fire adaptation by Arden, Mays and Susan Lyons is still firmly Victorian, yet has vitality and renewed endurance – as if Scrooge drank a green smoothie every morning in preparation for his big night.

Jefferson Mays plays every speaking role in "A Christmas song" On Broadway.
Jefferson Mays plays every speaking role in “A Christmas Carol” on Broadway.
Jefferson Mays

May’s manic energy is just what ‘neezer needed. The actor specializes in playing multiple roles and did so to garner acclaim in ‘I Am My Own Wife’ and ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ on Broadway. Eccentric and creature-like, he can be believably high or low at the snap of a finger. For Mays, impersonating giant Dickens characters like Mr. Fezziwig and the Ghost of the Christmas Present is no easy task. I mean that as a compliment, but you can almost imagine Mays speaking the same way as she orders a salad from Pret a Manger.

One-man “Carol”s have been done before, and the crowded scenes here – parties, dinner at Bob Cratchit’s – are unwieldy and unfocused compared to Scrooge speaking bluntly to a ghost. I admit that I hate it when adult actors play children and young teenagers. However, as performed by Mays, we get a poignant feeling that this consistent tour may not be a supernatural intervention after all, but rather a therapy session of voices dormant in the formerly good guy’s head. That Scrooge is just as responsible for driving his own change of heart as are the visiting ghouls is a powerful lesson for the tough times.

The lighting is a star in "A Christmas song."
Lighting is a star in A Christmas Carol.
Jefferson Mays

A torn mind is certainly the takeaway from the series’ most haunting moment, in which May’s face is bathed in amber on one side and blue on the other as he sways in the torn manner of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This is the first show of the Broadway season where lighting (by Ben Stanton) was essential. Joshua D. Reid’s sound design also resonates with audiences.

And the direction is very good. Arden has been a Broadway regular since his 2015 revival of Spring Awakening, and A Christmas Carol is his strongest and most confident work to date. Each idea connects seamlessly to the next and never gets bogged down in Scrooge’s control. The performance builds and builds, surprising us all the way. The director also displays a flair for stunning sets that wasn’t so evident in his recent downtown revival of Parade, slated for Broadway.

Even if, like me, you’re a Scrooge when it comes to annual holiday meals, “A Christmas Carol” pulls off a powerful play. Broadway revitalizes an old chestnut tree

Emma Bowman

Emma Bowman is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Emma Bowman joined USTimeToday in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with Emma Bowman by emailing

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