Review: In Its 45th Christmas Carol, Goodman Theatre Roasts an Old Chestnut with New Seasoning and Traditional Charm

A fair number of children and teens attended opening night of Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol. Director Jessica Thebus and her creative team brought new life to this 45th edition of Goodman’s holiday story in ways that surely kept the younger generation enthralled. Sparkling lighting, dramatic sound effects, people and furniture in flight. No, this was not the Christmas Carol I saw at the old Goodman Theatre (located on the east side of the Art Institute) with my Aunt Belle when I was a child.

Tom Creamer’s adaptation of the Charles Dickens 1843 novel trims some of the details but not in any way that harms the flow of the story or the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from scowling miser to giddy philanthropist. Larry Yando in his 15th outing as Scrooge does not disappoint. In his early scenes with clerk Bob Cratchit (Thomas J. Cox) and visits from charity solicitors Ortie and Crumb (William Dick and Penelope Walker), Scrooge is his Scroogiest. “Are there no debtors’  prisons? …. Are the workhouses not in operation?” he asks.

Kareem Bandealy as the ghost of Jacob Marley and Larry Yando as Scrooge. Photo by Liz Lauren.

When he’s visited by the ghost of his partner Jacob Marley (Kareem Bandealy) and then by the Ghost of Christmas Past (the sparkling silvery performer Lucky Stiff), Scrooge reacts in horror and disbelief. When the Ghost of Christmas Present (Bethany Thomas, garbed in leaves of red and green), takes him on another tour, he’s still clueless about the lives of the poor, but beginning to see a bit of light. Finally, when he shares the miseries of a cemetery and a dark night with the Ghost of Christmas Future (Daniel Joseph Molina), Scrooge begins to melt into a new man.

The cast of A Christmas Carol features more notable Chicago actors. Andrew White plays the Narrator, who takes us through Scrooge’s story from beginning to happy ending. Cindy Gold plays the ebullient Mrs. Maud Fezziwig, proprietor of the firm that employs a young Ebenezer and gets him started on his business career. (This modern version of Dickens’ story gracefully converts some male roles to female—such as Scrooge’s nephew Fred to his niece Frida (Dee Dee Batteast) and Mr. Fezziwig to Mrs. Fezziwig.) The casting (by Lauren Port and Rachael Jiminez) is also richly diverse. Note that Austin Tichenor will appear as Scrooge for some performances; visit the website for those dates.

The four musicians are on stage for most of the performance. Delin Ruhl is on flute, Justin Amolsch on French horn, Gregory Hirte on fiddle, and Malcolm Ruhl on guitar, concertina and accordion.

The Cratchit family. Photo by Liz Lauren.

The holiday street scenes are brief but some of the highlights of Thebus’ clever staging. Sometimes they are groups of carolers, sometimes scenes of 19th century street commerce. Most cast members double as sellers of hats, wreaths, trees and chestnuts, or as poulterers or charwomen.

The extensive set design by Todd Rosenthal varies from background scrims of starry nights or snowy forests to settings for Scrooge’s home and office, Fezziwig’s office, Frida’s Christmas party and the Cratchit home. Keith Parham’s lighting design is essential to the moods created, as is Richard Woodbury’s sound design. Heidi Sue McMath’s costume designs are stunning and varied. Original music is by Andrew Hansen with music direction by Malcolm Ruhl. Flying effects are provided by ZFX Inc. Jennifer Gregory is stage manager.

A Christmas Carol runs two hours and 20 minutes, including one intermission. See it through December 31 at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets are $25-159 for performances Tuesday-Sunday with a Monday performance on December 26.

For more information on this and other productions, see www.theatreinchicago.com.

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Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.

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