Will Jefferson Mays’ solo ‘A Christmas Carol’ continue the recent good will for Charles Dickens at the Tony Awards?

The Christmas season brings scores of ticket buyers to Broadway as tourists flood Times Square and locals bring visiting family to the theater. Many of those audiences should catch the bold new version of “A Christmas Carol” at the Nederlander Theater, where Tony-winner Jefferson Mays vaults through every single character in Charles Dickens’ classic ghost story. The production is an artistic triumph, but will it thaw the hearts of Tony nominators?

Holiday themed shows have historically demonstrated a shaky track record at the Tony Awards. The 2016 production of “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn” earned a sole nomination for Denis Jones’ choreography. Before that, 2009’s “White Christmas” (another Berlin musical) nabbed nominations for Choreography and Orchestrations. In 2013 “A Christmas Story” became the first, and so far only, Christmas themed Best Musical nominee. It was also up for Score (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) and Book of a Musical (Joseph Robinette). None of these productions won any of their bids.

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This bad holiday luck all changed with the 2019 staging of “A Christmas Carol.” Directed by Matthew Warchus with a new adaptation from Jack Thorne, the show featured Campbell Scott as Scrooge with Broadway vets Andrea Martin and LaChanze as two of the ghosts. The show picked up five Tony nominations, beating the record of any previous Christmas outing on Broadway. And what’s more, it swept every single category it was up for. The adaptation won for its scenic design, costume design, lighting design, sound design, and became the first play to win best score.

One might think Tony voters would shrug their shoulders at yet another adaptation, but the new version with Mays bucks expectations by creating a night at the theater that is at once traditional and innovative.

Mays has made a career out of leapfrogging between multiple roles in a single production. He won a Tony for embodying about 40 characters in “I Am My Own Wife” and was again nominated for playing all nine doomed members of the D’Ysquith family in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” But here, Mays outdoes himself by playing over 50 characters during the course of this 90-minute play. This tireless act immediately places him in the Tony conversation for Lead Actor in a Play.

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This production leans into the spooky atmosphere of Dickens’ original tale with bold and haunting design choices. So expect this show to launch up to the top of nominators’ lists in most design categories. Dane Laffrey’s set first appears simple, but quickly shocks audiences by pulling itself apart like an intricate puzzle. Walls and furniture slip into the darkness only to reemerge having morphed into an entirely new structure. The Tony Administration has frequently made projection designers eligible alongside set designers, and I expect Lucy Mackinnon to find herself on the bill thanks to realistic projections which make walls decay with time or pulsate with ghostly energy. Ben Stanton’s lighting design sets an eerie tone, while also creating patches of darkness to expertly hide the secrets of the ever changing set. And Joshua D. Reid should earn a Sound Design nomination for giving Mays voice a ghastly sound as Marley’s ghost and for crafting the most effective jump scare I’ve ever experienced in a theater.

Matthew Warchus failed to earn a directing nomination for his “Christmas Carol,” but I think Michael Arden (a previous nominee for “Once on This Island” and Deaf West’s “Spring Awakening”) may be a stronger contender for wrangling these massive technical elements and synching them up with Mays’ unceasing performance. Arden may also earn bonus points since he crafted this adaptation (alongside Mays and Susan Lyons) which consists entirely of Dickens’ original dialogue and narration.

This new “A Christmas Carol” closes on New Year’s Day, but thanks to a new voting portal which forces Tony voters to only vote in categories where they have seen all the nominees, closed productions can remain competitive for Tony wins. If you need proof, just look at last year’s ceremony where “The Lehman Trilogy,” “Skeleton Crew,” and “Dana H.” all picked up major wins despite finishing their runs in the fall or winter. So, don’t be surprised to see Broadway celebrating Christmas in June.

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