Chicago Theatre Review
The Grandaddy of Them All!
A Christmas Carol – Goodman Theatre
This show is it. This is what Christmas is all about in Chicago. The Grandaddy of all holiday productions, and the show that every other Christmas Carol aspires to be has opened for the 36th year at the Goodman. And it is sensational! It’s eloquent, heartwarming and a feast for the eyes, the ears and the soul. The themes from Dickens’ novella and the lessons he taught aren’t diluted here by raucous musical numbers, Star Trek characters or dancing turkey boys. This is the production that would’ve made Charles Dickens proud.
Goodman Artistic Associate Henry Wishcamper enjoys his first outing as the director of Tom Creamer’s excellent stage adaptation. His production is earthy, straightforward, yet festooned with just the right amount of magical special effects to delight young and old alike. Wishcamper directs with heart, imagination and economy, going straight to the essence of what the Victorian author wrote about the responsibility of providing for those less fortunate. But what really hits home is Dickens’ reminder not to shut out our past, nor to dwell upon it; but rather to find lessons inherent in yesterday’s successes and mistakes. Learning from the past and the present ensures a future filled with knowledge and exciting new possibilities. Wishcamper’s Scrooge comes to understand this.
Larry Yando is the quintessential Scrooge. He doesn’t merely play the role, he totally inhabits the man. Subtle glances, tiny quirks and gestures combine with that mellifluous voice and those piercing eyes that make his sixth appearance as the London miser so rich and complete. This much-honored actor has played so many other great roles, from Roy Cohn in the Court’s production of “Angels in America,” Scar in National Tours of “The Lion King,” Casca in CST’s “Julius Caesar” and Shere Khan in the Goodman’s premiere of “The Jungle Book,” to name a few. Yando owns this stage and, while generously sharing it with his fellow actors, he makes Ebenezer Scrooge uniquely his own. Gruff and frightening as his penny-pinching early self, Yando’s journey toward Scrooge’s redemption is a joy to behold.
The entire cast is superb. As narrator, Sarah Chalcroft’s carefully articulated introduction, speaking Dickens‘ words with care and clarity, not only sets the tone for this production, but prepares the audience with all they need to understand what’s to come. She and Steven Pringle are both excellent as charity workers Mr. Ortie and Miss Crumb. Not only is Joe F0ust’s Ghost of Marley frightening but he also manages to bring some empathy to the miser’s plight. Ron Rains is perfect as Bob Cratchit bringing optimism and a reserved joy to his earlier scenes and a tear to our eye at Tiny Tim’s grave. Elizabeth Ledo’s Ghost of Christmas Past is pixie-like yet touching and caring. A.C. Smith uses his deep voice and larger-than-life presence to make the Ghost of Christmas Present a presence to remember. Michael Linder and Kim Schultz delight as the Fezziwigs, the kind of employer everyone wishes they had, while Atra Asdou and Robert Hope make Belle and young Ebenezer much more than just apparitions from the past. However, the play’s most heartfelt moment comes when Fred (Anish Jethmalani) embraces his Uncle Scrooge at Christmas dinner. This is the moment to which this production has led.
With such a wide variety of holiday choices available in Chicagoland, the production that truly says “Christmas” is this one. There are excellent alternatives, but the real deal, the show that will remind you of what Christmas is all about, is at the Goodman. There is no better choice; this is the “Christmas Carol” to see.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented Nov. 16-Dec. 8 by the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 312-443-3800 or by visiting www.GoodmanTheatre.org/Subscribe.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.