The Christkindlmarket has opened, the first weekend of Zoolights has come and gone, the Songs of Good Cheer holiday sing-along shows start at Old Town School of Folk Music next week, and A Christmas Carol is playing at the Goodman Theatre — the holiday season has started in Chicago!
I’ve loved A Christmas Carol since seeing the Muppets version as a child, and every year I always meant to go see the Goodman’s production but never seem to actually get there… until this year! The opening performance celebrated the 40th anniversary of A Christmas Carol at the Goodman. Scrooges from years past gathered on stage to take a bow alongside the current Scrooge Larry Yando, and cast members from the past packed the stage to the audience’s booming commendations. Chicago dearly loves this production, evidenced by the audience’s audible glee when the starry nighttime set is revealed in the second half of the show (a credit to Todd Rosenthal’s set direction), and their anticipatory cheers at the appearance of certain actors who appear in the production year after year.
I hadn’t realized the cleverness of portions of Dickens’ script until I watched Yando’s cute curmudgeon of a Scrooge turn off the charity seekers by offering them a loan with interest and asking if the prisons and workhouses are still in operation. Later he stares at Marley’s ghost and insists that he’s a hallucination, the result of an undercooked potato.
The physical comedy of both Yando’s Scrooge and Ron Rains’ Bob Cratchit set the tone for the production. Tom Creamer made a few alterations to the book, including rewriting the character of Scrooge’s nephew as a niece named Frida (Ali Burch). This switch has little impact on the plot, though I seem to remember the character meaning more to past productions of the play. I wonder what the intention of the change was since it wasn’t given an appropriate amount of stage time to be relevant.
The crowd loves Lisa Gaye Dixon as the Ghost of Christmas Present. They seemed to anticipate every one of her putdowns and quips. Tiny Tim is played adeptly by newcomer Paris Strickland. She has a certain silence about her and a perfectly performed limp that makes you want to protect her from the harshness of this world. All the child actors in the production were wonderful. They carried the dance scenes in Fezziwig’s office at the end of the performance, making it the overwhelming happy-ending story it’s meant to be. Tommy Rapley’s choreography feels totally natural without any sense of being contrived.
Dickens originally read this play to an audience of 2000+ working class Londoners a few days after Christmas. He thought they were the best audience for his work. Nearly 175 years later and it’s being performed to besotted Chicagoans for the 40th year in a row. A great Chicago tradition lives on! This is a happy production, meant for families and lovers of the feel-good. If you’re looking for a darker reading of Dickens, one that considers his dismissal of class mobility or the birth of a secular theology, you ought to attend another production.
A Christmas Carol continues at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., through December 31. The play runs 130 minutes with one intermission. Performances are Wednesday-Sunday. Buy tickets for $25 to $112 online or by calling 312-4.43-3800.