Ghosts of Stagecraft PastPresentFuture

The current Broadway production of A Christmas Carol utilizes different generations of stagecraft to bring this centuries-old tale back to life.

Each of these stagecraft methods represent a different era of stagecraft that A Christmas Carol has been passed down and performed through.

The earliest generation of its stagecraft connects to the revival’s conceit. One man telling us this entire story harkens back to the foundation of all stagecraft: just an orator standing in front of a group of people, sharing a parable for our benefit.

In this instance, this storytelling approach has the effect of leaning into A Christmas Carol’s original secret sauce: the writing of Charles Dickens. While conventionally fleshed-out versions retain a lot of his descriptive language, stripping away all corporeal distractions — save one — can’t help but focus our attention on his words, words, words.

And when you’re in the pen of Dickens, telling can be greater than showing.

It’s an embodied return to the conditions of A Christmas Carol‘s initial conception: all of its history and legacy sprung from the mind of a solitary author. From this lonely isolation came and still comes the teeming life of multiplicity, thematically apt to Scrooge’s arc.

But this Christmas Carol doesn’t lack distraction, which is where the generationally layered stagecraft rears its head(s).

The production wields hallmarks of these generations of stagecraft to construct ocular-defying theatrical tableaus. That aforementioned campfire orator moved to performance by candlelight, which we got here (the play of light and darkness to create shadows? Hello theater!). Then there’s the mechanized stagecraft — hello lighting! — of the last few centuries (you also get archaic miniatures and puppets thrown in for good measure). And then there are the projections of more recent centuries. Even the achingly, utterly modern emo-alternative song — Sufjan Stevens’ riff on the holiday standard “Silver & Gold” — bridges in yet another generation of stagecraft.

And, in a bit of dramaturgical insight, all of this stagecraft is reined in for the sequences when Scrooge reconnects to the power of community. In fact, Jefferson Mays explicitly breaks the fourth wall for the first time (pointing at an audience member! Responding to another! Handing a beer to a third in the front row!) when Scrooge first feels this power again, the start of its resurgence in his life. The term he emphasizes at the very end: unanimity, AKA: his arc. He grabs that beer back and takes a swig during the curtain call, after Scrooge has learned his “fellowship and camaraderie for all!” lesson, a toast to the powerful community of live performance.

During these stagecraft-reined-in stretches, it’s almost like the power of community stands in for the power of that other stagecraft; the power of human pathos replaces the more superficial power of stagecraft.

But stagecraft can still make the audience both feel the character’s plight, and facilitate his growth in them. Case in point:

Observing anew the power of community leads Scrooge to see how he ruined the community of his own life, and in the lives of others. Obviously it’s painful to look at, a pain the production forces on the audience by immediately shining a glaring white light in the direction of the house at this exact moment. The light of sight can be painful, but it’s a facilitating pain. When the white light returns at end of the play, it has more of an angelic hue; the truth hurts, but it’s also a path to relocating joyful meaning on this Earthly plane.

Including through the sometimes painfully-blinding, yet existentially-clarifying light of art.

Recall my thoughts on how Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead forever altered how audiences respond to their introduction in Hamlet. Well, Pasek and Paul — NOT THEM AGAIN — might achieve something similar with Spirited‘s “Good Afternoon”. Whenever Scrooge screamed the phrase in both this production and the West End’s A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story, I was immediately brought back to the infernal catchiness/clinginess of the song. 

The power of an ear worm! 

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