Review

Review: Much the Same, Goodman’s A Christmas Carol Remains a Treat, If Ready for Change

Now in its 42nd year (a bit of a miracle, no?), Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol remains a steadfastly satisfying holiday tradition, even as this latest edition sees little change year over year; the show’s press materials note only eight members of the more than two dozen company members are newcomers to the production. Based on an adaptation by Tom Creamer of Charles Dickens’ classic, and directed for the seventh year by Henry Wishcamper, the updates this reliable production has seen over the last few years (a revamped Ghost of Christmas Past, for example) seem to have settled into a comfortable, still wholly delightful, routine.

A Christmas Carol

Image credit Liz Lauren

Portraying Ebenezer Scrooge for the 12th time, Larry Yando is as heartfelt as he is cartoonish as the curmudgeon turns into a teddy bear over the course of the play’s two familiar acts. Happily leaning into the audience’s (easily elicited) laughter, he vamps his way through the three visits from Christmas ghosts who show him it’s not too late to change his selfish, stingy ways; there’s a touch too much of this while Scrooge is still Scrooge, but Yando nevertheless handily takes the character from one end of this generosity spectrum to the other. It’s like he’s done this before.

And to be sure, the whole of this latest iteration plays much the same way: we’ve been here before, and we know just where we’re going. That isn’t, however, a criticism. Like that new dish your mom tries to introduce into the holiday meal at the expense of a family favorite, change can be hard, and in the case of an annual tradition as beloved as A Christmas Carol at the Goodman, why risk it? Sure, those in the main roles (Thomas J. Cox reprises Bob Cratchit; Ali Burch is again Scrooge’s niece Frida; Paris Strickland is Tiny Tim for the third time—though soon she’ll probably outgrow the role) probably know their lines, their blocking and their cues even before the first rehearsal each year. Does that make them any less heartfelt or endearing? Certainly not at the show’s recent opening night, early as it may feel with Thanksgiving arriving so late this year.

A fairly classic adaptation of Dickens’ story of redemption and forgiveness, Todd Rosenthal’s Victorian sets continue to impress, and there’s no shortage of wow factor throughout, as ghosts appear out of nowhere, fly here and there, and toss a seemingly endless supply of glitter around. It’s quite a musical production, as well, with carols and orchestrations (Malcolm Ruhl, music director) filling in scene changes; some of the sweetest moments are those when a few ensemble members serenade us.

Over in London, they’re doing something quite interesting with A Christmas Carol indeed: recasting the lead as Ebenezer’s sister Fran, who passes away in the original, a factor in her brother’s dour outlook on life. Now there’s a thought: a woman or POC in the lead role. If “Doctor Who” can do it, so can Dickens.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with what the Goodman is up to now where their version is concerned, and so it’s easy to recommend this mainstay as a must-see for another year. But there’s also plenty the theater and its creative forces could do to push the envelope a bit where this well-known story is concerned, in ways that Chicagoans are more than ready to embrace.

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