Chicago Theatre Review
The Grandaddy of Them All!
A Christmas Carol – Goodman Theatre
Goodman Artistic Associate Henry Wishcamper enjoys his return as the director of Tom Creamer’s excellent stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas story. His production is earthy, straightforward, yet decked out with just the right amount of magical, special effects to delight young and old alike. Wishcamper directs with passion, imagination and economy, going straight to the heart 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.
And 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 40th year at the Goodman. And it’s simply 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, musical numbers, bizarre characters from pop culture or dancing turkey boys. This is the production that would certainly have made Charles Dickens proud.
Larry Yando is the quintessential Scrooge. He doesn’t merely play the role, he totally inhabits the man. Subtle glances, tiny quirks and little gestures combined with that mellifluous voice and those piercing eyes make Mr. Yando’s tenth appearance as the iconic English curmudgeon so rich and complete. This much-honored actor has played many other great characters, from the title role in “King Lear,” to Roy Cohn in “Angels in America;” from Scar in the National Tours of “The Lion King” to 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 humor, 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. J. Salome Martinez and Penelope Walker are both terrific as charity workers Mr. Ortie and Mrs. Crumb. Doubling in Act II as greedy pawnbroker Old Joe, not only is Joe Foust’s Ghost of Jacob Marley terrifying but he also brings a degree of empathy to the miser’s plight. Ron E. Rains becomes better and better every year as Bob Cratchit, lending optimism and humor to his earlier scenes, while prompting tears following the death of his dear Tiny Tim (played with natural enthusiasm and touching innocence by Paris Strickland).
This year Molly Brennan, who inhabits the Ghost of Christmas Past, is a sassy, punky pixie with fairy wings and a commanding demeanor, while still being an empathetic and caring presence for Scrooge. Lisa Gaye Dixon once again employs her earthy laugh, deep voice and larger-than-life persona to make the Ghost of Christmas Present a delightful presence. Jonah D. Winston and Penelope Walker provide some much-welcome mirth and giddiness as the Fezziwigs, the kind of lovable employer and his wife everyone wishes they had. Breon Arzell and Sadieh Rifai make a comic, energetic Dick Wilkins and a graceful, eloquent Belle, so much more than simply apparitions from the past. However, this year Henry Wishcamper has changed nephew Fred, Scrooge’s only living relative, into his niece, Frida. Ali Burch portrays this new character with drive and dignity, particularly as she tries to coax Ebenezer to come for Christmas dinner. In the play’s most heartfelt moment, played with honesty and care, Frida earnestly embraces her Uncle when he unexpectedly shows up at her home on Christmas Day. This is the heartfelt, climactic moment to which this production has led.
Set within Todd Rosenthal’s impressive, gorgeously detailed and authentic-looking scenic design, adorned in hundreds of sumptuous period costumes created by Heidi Sue McMath, bathed in atmospheric lighting 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, a terrifying and gigantic Ghost of Christmas Future, a talented, live, four-piece ensemble of street musicians, consisting of talented Justin Amolsch, Andrew Coil, Greg Hirte and Malcolm Ruhl, and you have a Christmas Carol that absolutely hits all the right notes.
Chicagoland overflows with a wide variety of choices for holiday entertainment. Each has its own special draw and while some are for adults only, many provide joy for the entire family. But, celebrating its 40th anniversary, the most magnificent production that truly says “Christmas” is the Goodman’s. There are some excellent alternatives around town, but the real deal, the show that reminds audiences of what the holiday is really all about, is at the Goodman. There is no better choice; this is a tradition. This is a holiday extravaganza with a heart, and a must-see at this time of year. Do not miss it!
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 18-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.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.