While spectacle describes the new musical version of “A Christmas Carol” at Madison Square Garden’s Paramount Theater, Patrick Stewart’s solo rendering of the Dickens story is anti-spectacle. With no more than a few pieces of furniture , a marvelously effective lighting scheme by Fred Allen and, primarily, a body that truly is an instrument, Stewart tells the tale in a way that dares you not to become totally, wholly engrossed.
A formidable vocal and histrionic skill is the most obvious reason for this; a subtler one is Stewart’s transparent joy in taking on all the familiar roles with a perfect mix of earnestness and play. He negotiates a tightrope — on one side, sentimentality, on the other, self-importance — with irresistible confidence.
So Stewart seems to have an annuity here, this being the third time he’s played the show on Broadway during the Christmas season; last year he did it at the Old Vic in London and won an Olivier Award for his efforts. An emergency necessitated my early departure on opening night, but judging from the first act , it appears only to have gotten richer.
Of course, since he began performing it, the major change to have transpired is that the actor has become a bigger star and even a sex symbol, accounting for the crowds outside the stage entrance to the Richard Rodgers. Too bad the show is going for $ 50 a pop: Think of the world of good it would do for all those Trekkies to get beamed up to the truly amazing world Dickens conjured 150 years ago, in this inspired rendition.