4 out of 4 stars
A Christmas Carol is back at Goodman Theatre for its 40th anniversary this holiday season. The timeless tale by Charles Dickens reminds us the importance of kindness and love. Set in 1800s London, A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an old miser who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. Ten directors, eight Ebenezer Scrooges and twenty-nine Tiny Tims later, this Chicago tradition lives on!
On Monday night, a special curtain call included 40 alumni artists- including directors and Scrooges – joining the current cast on stage. Over four decades, 1.5 million people have delighted in the spectacular storytelling, glorious music and Scrooge’s unforgettable discovery of kindness, generosity and love. From the moment you enter the theater to the moment you leave, the joy of the season is contagious. The visual aesthetic was breath taking and each scene distinct in location through such elaborate detail from the massive skewed mansion of Jacob Marley to the humble cozy home of Bob Cratchet and his family. The towering story book set pieces designed by Todd Rosenthal roll backward and forward and in and out against large scenic backdrop scrims. This ease of physical scenery is paired with musical interludes in set transition, which feels as though you are turning the page of a book – fluid and magical. Justin Amolsch (French Horn), Andrew Coil (Guitar/Violin), Greg Hirte (Fiddle), and Malcolm Ruhl (Concertina, Accordion, Guitar) all perform live the original music composed by Andrew Hansen. A beautifully immersive experience and well executed. The costuming by Heidi Sue McMath clearly defined each minute character of the massive variety of social standings giving the audience the scope and breath of Dickens’ work to represent a snapshot of his own world during this time period. From the humble lovable Cratchit, played by Ron Rains, to the boisterous joyous Mr. Fezziwig, played by Jonah D. Winston, the fabrics were lovely and color palettes blending and juxtaposition against each other in a pleasing manner. McMath takes new risks and introduces small nuances through her designs. While those choices may not be to everyone’s taste, i.e. the pink-tutu circus punk-esque Ghost of Christmas Past, it is that type of contrast mixed with the classic homage to the past that will ensure the beloved story of Scrooge will never fade.
Charles Dickens’ universal tale of hope and redemption is told by a cast of 25 individuals and holds an abundance of young talent and seasoned veterans. Larry Yando marks his 10th year as Scrooge this December. Yando’s portrayal of the bitter old man yanks at the heartstrings. Scrooge’s realization of how important it is to be kind does not only affect the present moment in time, but the impressions you leave behind upon others. One thing I find refreshing is in this particular rendition of Scrooge is the audiences sees more of the childish side of him hinted throughout Yando’s performance during Scrooge’s time in the past. Not only is it a humorous addition, it humanizes this man seemingly so one dimensional upon first introduction. Kareem Bandealy also portrays Scrooge, but as a young man. Bandealy wonderfully excels at expressing those awkward times in life of being so steadfast in one’s beliefs that is makes us blind to the bigger picture of what is going on. Those bittersweet moments allows the audience to see Scrooge is capable of participating in Christmas cheer, but continues to isolate the older Scrooge in these revealing time travel moments. Paris Strickland in her Goodman debut is the theater’s first female Tiny Tim. Strickland’s story is particularly poignant, as she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that ravages the nervous system. In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Heidi Stevens met with Paris and her parents to ask her about the upcoming role and her health challenges growing up. Paris’ performance shines and not only shows hope through her portrayal of Tiny Tim, but her own determination and courage. “I can show the world that girls can do anything,” Paris says. In light of the 40th anniversary, an article in The Chicago Sun Times highlights eight of the 29 actors in years past played Tiny Tim.
The props direction on this piece really comes into action through each flickering pillar candle, piece of garland and pawn broker’s wagon. Acute attention to every scene is evident within the first half of the performance. As the classic tale holds a plethora of dark and foreboding themes of a world without kindness, the performance does include a few frightening moments. There are a number of highly impressive technical projections integrated with stark lighting sequences and audio accompaniment. Keith Parham’s lighting design based on the original lighting design by Robert Christen alongside sound design by Richard Woodbury comes together harmoniously. It is important to note that for the first time, Goodman Theatre is providing a sensory-friendly/relaxed performance of A Christmas Carol in partnership with Autism Speaks Chicago. Sensory friendly/relaxed performances are designed to create a performing arts experience for families with members who have autism or other social, cognitive and physical challenges that create sensory sensitivities.
Dickens’ wrote A Christmas Carol in a time when Christmas traditions were being reevaluated in England, such as carols and family gatherings. He also focuses on British social policy towards children in poverty at the time through the personification of Want and Ignorance. This inclusion allows Dickens to present his message of the need for charity. This timeless piece told in such a whimsical story book performance is what has the audiences coming back year after year. And while some may say it’s old hat, this classic tale filled with glitter and light reminds us through Scrooge’s journey of how vastly important kindness is in this world.
To learn more about the Goodman Theatre and tickets to A Christmas Carol, please visit https://www.goodmantheatre.org/ or call the box office at 312.443.3800
A special note:
Additionally, the Goodman Theatre has created a multimedia project showcasing the impact the production has made over 40 years: the “Humans of A Christmas Carol” photo project, featuring the cast, crew and staff captured by famed Chicago-based photographer Frank Ishman; and “A Christmas Carol All Stars” stories from a variety of patrons from those who have attended nearly every year, to the couple married by “Bob Cratchit” to the fan named after Tiny Tim. To view the online galleries visit Onstage.GoodmanTheatre.org or any of the Goodman’s social media sites.
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with a B.A. in English and a B.A. in Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!