A Christmas Carol Live – Starring Jefferson Mays – November 2020

Even for an online event I felt a little guilty taking a photo

I adore A Christmas Carol. Have since I was very young. I’ve always been a fan of characters no one liked because I truly believed everyone can be redeemed. So the first time I was read the Dickens story I was hooked. And that was a very long time ago. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a version that didn’t pull me in and I’ve been known to write various takeoffs of the story myself. It truly is my favorite piece of literature.

Each Christmas season I find myself watching multiple versions of the story. Listing the different ones and why each is special in its own way is for another entry. This year, though, leading into December, I wasn’t really feeling it. There’s a person residing in the White House currently who I don’t think is worthy of redemption at all and yet I know eventually there will come a time when he gets his own revised history. So I wasn’t really looking to give old Scrooge a change this year.

But the pandemic has brought out strange emotions in all of us and as soon as I started receiving emails about all of the theater companies putting on versions of A Christmas Carol that would be available for streaming, I was pulled right back in. And the most compelling of the options is the one I watched tonight. A Tony-award winning actor in a show where he gets to show the talents that won him his trophy.


This, cast list while true, also made me laugh out loud.

Let’s just get this out of the way: Jefferson Mays is remarkable. He’s a Tony winner so it’s not a surprise but holy cow the man performs over 50 different roles in this and, sure, you know it’s him doing them all but it works. SO much better than I expected. (Side note: I’m not a fan of one-man shows, generally speaking. I feel a lot of the time as if they are just ego-driven monologues – and a lot of the time they are – this is not one of those times.)

The lighting, sound and direction get assists for how well this worked. Director (and co-author of this adaptation) Michael Arden’s vision is masterful in its use especially of the lighting. In scenes where Mays isn’t reciting but is having conversations essentially with himself you fully believe he is the multiple characters he’s portraying. This works fantastically well in the scene with Scrooge and Marley and somewhat less well but appealingly awkward in the Cratchit family Christmas dinner scene.

Mays as Scrooge

Mays as Marley

Watching this performance it was almost unbelievable how Jefferson Mays made me believe I was seeing all these different characters on stage. I will admit to more than once wishing I had been seeing this in person – I would like to experience the energy coming off of him as he flies around the stage – but I was also incredibly impressed with how well Mays, Arden and the entire production team made this work. I watched it on a large screen tv (as opposed to my laptop which usually does most of the streaming for me) and it pulled me right in.

I have one criticism: the music by Sufjan Stevens. It wasn’t that the music was bad but it did take me out of the immersive experience I was having. Especially after the first spirit’s visit. I just feel it was oddly placed. Stevens is pretty much a Christmas music God so it does make sense in a way to use his music – and the songs are good but they distracted me from the moments.

There was one surprise, for me anyway. A Christmas Carol is supposed to be a scary Christmas story but I never have been scared while reading or watching any version of it. Somehow, though, this production managed to bring a menacing touch to it. Again, lighting and sound had a lot to do with it, but also Mays’ performance of Marley was genuinely frightening. 

If not for the long list of shows I have coming up, this would definitely be one I went back to more than once.

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