Chicago Theatre Review
God Bless Us Everyone
A Christmas Carol – Goodman Theatre
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 39th year at the Goodman. Even if audiences have seen it in the past, this year’s production is different. It’s funnier, flashier and sensational! It’s eloquent, heartwarming and a feast for the eyes, ears and soul. The themes from Dickens’ novella and the lessons he taught aren’t diluted here by raucous, time-filling musical numbers, bizarre television 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. It’s about giving back, so important to remember in an era when taking seems to trump everything else. But what really hits home in this production is Dickens’ reminder to neither shut out our past, nor to dwell upon it. Instead, he suggests we 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 eventually 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, little frivolous laughs and practiced gestures combined with that mellifluous voice and those piercing eyes make Mr. Yando’s return 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 “King Lear,” to Roy Cohn in the Court Theatre’s production of “Angels in America,” Scar in the National Tour 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 own. Gruff and terrifying, with moments of unexpected comedy, Yando’s journey toward Scrooge’s redemption is an absolute joy to behold.
The entire cast is once again superb 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 lies ahead. Mr. Bandealy also gives a spirited, memorable performance as the younger apprentice Scrooge. Hannah Gomez and Penelope Walker are both excellent as flighty charity workers Miss Ortie and Mrs. Crumb. Doubling in Act II as greedy pawnbroker Old Joe, not only is Joe Foust’s Ghost of Jacob Marley frightening but he also brings some needed empathy to the miser’s plight. Ron E. Rains becomes better each year as Bob Cratchit, providing humor, optimism and joy to his earlier scenes while evoking a tear following Tiny Tim’s death (played with natural innocence by Nathaniel Buescher).
This year Travis A. Knight inhabits the Ghost of Christmas Past, as a sexy, soaring hunk with giant angel wings and an ever-commanding demeanor, while still being an empathetic and caring presence for Scrooge. Kim Schultz employs her earthy laugh, commanding voice and larger-than-life presence to make the Ghost of Christmas Present a delightful presence to remember. John Lister and Penelope Walker provide some much-welcome fun 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 Scrooge’s niece Frida (normally his nephew, Fred), also played by Ms. Valada-Viars with distinguished honesty and love, earnestly embraces her reborn Uncle Scrooge at her home on Christmas Day. This is the moment where this production has been leading us.
Performed upon Todd Rosenthal’s gorgeously detailed, authentic-looking sets, clothed in hundreds of sumptuous period costumes designed by Heidi Sue McMath, with an intricately atmospheric lighting plot by Keith Parham and Richard Woodbury’s alternately eerie and merry sound design, all make this production as lavish as ever. Add to this waves of dense London fog, air-born flying spirits, an unbelievably terrifying and gigantic silent Ghost of Christmas Future, a talented, live four-piece ensemble of street musicians (courtesy of Justin Amolsch, Andrew Coil, Madeline 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 has returned. There are certainly some excellent alternatives all around town, but the real deal, the show that reminds 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 19-December 31 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/Carol.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.