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 its 37th year at the Goodman. And is it 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, time-consuming musical numbers, bizarre Star Trek characters or dancing turkey boys. This is the ultimate production that would certainly have made Charles Dickens proud.
Goodman Artistic Associate Henry Wishcamper enjoys a return 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 we all share of providing for those less fortunate. But what really hits home in this production is Dickens’ reminder not to shut out our past, nor to dwell upon it; but rather to find the lessons inherent in yesterday’s successes and mistakes. Learning from the past and the present ensures a future filled with knowledge and exciting, unlimited possibilities. Mr. Wishcamper’s miser 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 combined with that mellifluous voice and those piercing eyes make Mr. Yando’s seventh appearance as the English curmudgeon so rich and complete. This much-honored actor has played many other great roles, from the title role in CST’s recent production of “King Lear,” to Roy Cohn in the Court Theatre’s production of “Angels in America,” Scar for three years in National Tours of “The Lion King” and Shere Khan in the Goodman’s premiere of “The Jungle Book,” to name only a few. Larry Yando owns the stage and, while generously sharing it with his fellow actors, he makes Ebenezer Scrooge uniquely his. Gruff and terrifying, with moments of humor as his penny-pinching early self, Yando’s journey toward Scrooge’s redemption is an absolute joy to behold.
The entire cast is superb again this year. As narrator, Kareem Bandealy’s, carefully articulated introduction, speaking Dickens‘ words with deep resonance, care and clarity, not only sets the tone for this production, but prepares the audience with all they need to know in order to appreciate what’s about to come. Mr. Bandealy also gives a spirited, memorable performance as the younger apprentice Scrooge. Theo Allyn and Bret Tuomi are both excellent as charity workers Miss Ortie and Mr. Crumb. Doubling in Act II as greedy pawnbroker Old Joe, not only is Joe Foust’s Ghost of Jacob Marley frightening but he also manages to bring some needed empathy to the miser’s plight. Ron E. Rains becomes better and better every year as Bob Cratchit, lending optimism and admirable joy to his earlier scenes while prompting a tear following Tiny Tim’s death (played with natural innocence by Nathaniel Buescher).
This year Patrick Andrews, who inhabits the Ghost of Christmas Past, is a sexy, punk pixie with angel wings and an ever-commanding demeanor, while still being an empathetic and caring presence for Scrooge. Lisa Gaye Dixon employs her earthy laugh, deep voice and larger-than-life presence to make the Ghost of Christmas Present a delightful presence to remember. Brett Tuomi and Kim Schultz provide some much-welcome giddiness as the Fezziwigs, the kind of lovable employer and his wife everyone wishes they had. J. Salome Martinez and Kristina Valada-Viars make comic, energetic Dick Wilkins and graceful, eloquent Belle much more than simply apparitions from the past. However, the play’s most heartfelt moment comes when Fred, as played with energy, honesty and care by Anish Jethmalani, earnestly embraces his reborn Uncle Scrooge at Christmas dinner. This is the moment to which this production has led.
Adorned in Todd Rosenthal’s gorgeously detailed, authentic-looking sets, hundreds of sumptuous period costumes designed by Heidi Sue McMath, a intricately atmospheric lighting plot by Keith Parham and Richard Woodbury’s alternately eerie and merry sound design this production is as lavish as ever. Add to this waves of dense London fog, air-born flying spirits, an unbelievably terrifying and gigantic Ghost of Christmas Future, a talented, live four-piece ensemble of street musicians (courtesy of Justin Amolsch, Andrew Coil, Greg Hirte and Malcolm Ruhl) and you have a Christmas Carol that absolutely sings.
With such a wide variety of holiday choices available in Chicagoland, the production that truly says “Christmas” is this one. There are some excellent alternatives all around town, but the real deal, the show that will remind audiences of what the holiday is truly all about, is at the Goodman. There is no better choice; this is a holiday extravaganza with a heart that is a must-see at this time of year. Do not miss it!
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 23-December 28 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago.
Tickets are available at the Goodman box office, by calling 312-443-3800 or by visiting www.GoodmanTheatre.org/Luna.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.