With a whole lot of heart, BroadwaySF’s production of “A Christmas Carol” makes audiences undergo a transformation similar to its protagonist — without, of course, subjecting viewers to being haunted by ghosts. While theater-goers will likely not be as begrudging toward the Christmas season as Ebenezer Scrooge, audiences will surely come out of the play with an inspired spirit, eagerly reveling in the merry festivities of this time of year. Fun for the whole family and speaking to universal audiences, this production, adapted by playwright Jack Thorne from the classic Dickens Christmas story, is a perfect holiday treat for all.
“A Christmas Carol” tells the story of the famously ill-tempered Ebenezer Scrooge (Francois Battiste), an aging miser who remains selfish and lonely despite amassing a considerable fortune. Despising Christmas and everything to do with it, Scrooge turns down an invitation to Christmas dinner by his nephew, Fred (LeRoy S. Graham), the son of his late sister, Fan (Monica Ho). That night, he is visited by the ghost of his late business partner, Jacob Marley (Ben Beckley), who tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits that night. Though he tries to resist his haunting, Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past (Nancy Opel), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Amber Iman) and an unexpected third spirit, coming out of it all a better, kinder man.
When audiences step into Golden Gate Theatre, they will immediately marvel at the beauty of hundreds of lanterns hanging over the stage, spilling overhead above the venue’s seats. Throughout the show, these lanterns will flicker and shine in hypnotic patterns, illustrating immaculate lighting effects. The sheer number of lanterns creates the illusion of an expanded stage, swallowing audiences into the captivating tale. Other lighting effects and uses of props seamlessly and clearly distinguish the real from the supernatural and the play’s various time jumps. The entire production is incredibly fluid and smooth, evidence of remarkable direction by Jamie Manton.
The acting in “A Christmas Carol” is outstanding. Battiste’s Scrooge is both despicable and sympathetic; you love to hate him but grow to genuinely love him anyway. Battiste obviously knows Scrooge inside and out, unfolding as the layers of his character are peeled back and explored by each ghost. The audience follows Scrooge’s character through childhood and into adulthood, gaining an understanding that his fortress of coldness and gloom is built on a foundation of abuse from his father (Beckley) and losing his fiancee, Belle (Ash Malloy). Battiste beautifully portrays his complex character at each stage in life and makes Scrooge’s final transformation all the more believable and heartwarming.
Two more highly commendable performances come from Opel and Iman as the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Ghost of Christmas Present. Opel’s performance is delightfully humorous while Iman’s is filled with sass and attitude. Although the two characters are very different, each actor is able to assert power and effectively teach Scrooge a lesson in their own creative ways. The ghosts are very individual and self-assured as they constantly challenge Scrooge, kindling lots of fun to watch on stage.
One of the best parts about “A Christmas Carol,” however, has got to be the production’s engagement with the audience. After concluding the bulk of Scrooge’s journey, the play becomes less occupied with telling the story and begins to prioritize providing the audience with a good time. It is hard not to smile along with Scrooge as he runs around town making amends, happy as can be — and it’s impossible not to give a little gasp in awe as snow begins to fall from the ceiling, gently sprinkling some essence of winter onto the audience.
BroadwaySF’s “A Christmas Carol” is lighthearted fun and a perfect way to spend some quality time with loved ones this Christmas season. It’s bound to bring Christmas cheer to all — even the most reluctant of Scrooges.