BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Goodman Theatre
The Goodman Theatre's annual production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, now in its 41st year, embraces Charles Dickens' world with all of its Victorian charm. And rightly so: after all, Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, are largely credited with popularizing Christmas traditions in Britain. Between these royals and the legacy of Dickens' beloved tale, nothing says 'Christmas' quite like carolers in top hats and gas lamps glowing in the London fog.
Yet Dickens was also an advocate for social justice, using his pen to highlight the appalling conditions of working-class life in the nineteenth century. In the Goodman's production, directed by Henry Wishcamper, we see both sides of the coin: a beautifully designed, traditional rendering of Scrooge's redemption, and a blunt look at the hard truths of human depravity and suffering that he must face along the way.
Playing Ebenezer Scrooge for the eleventh time, Larry Yando brings complexity and an abundance of humor to the role. Dickens' wit is on full display in this faithful adaptation by Tom Creamer, and it's hard to imagine a funnier Scrooge than Yando. Even in his grumpiest of "humbug" moods, his smallest gestures and inflections are entertaining. And as we journey through Christmases past, present, and future, Yando gives us a jovial Scrooge, a childish Scrooge, a practical Scrooge, a regretful Scrooge, a mourning Scrooge... In the end, we know this man so well that his joy is utterly infectious as he takes a new lease on life.
Among the talented ensemble joining Yando, Thomas J. Cox is an early standout as Bob Cratchit. From the opening scene in Scrooge's lending house, Cox establishes a subtle sense of physical comedy as the cowering, ill-used clerk. When we meet Cratchit's family, the warmth and love are palpable, despite their obvious struggles to make ends meet. Their shared grief over the projected death of Tiny Tim, played by the pint-sized Paris Strickland, is one of the play's most touching moments.
Of course, A CHRISTMAS CAROL is also a ghost story, albeit a family-friendly one. Scrooge's hauntings begin with his late partner, Jacob Marley (Kareem Bandealy), who appears in Scrooge's cold, grim bedroom with a flash of light and much clinking of chains. The next to arrive, this time on a flying rig, is the Ghost of Christmas Past (Molly Brennan). In the first major departure from the traditional setting, costume designer Heidi Sue McMath gives her a punk-meets-Tinkerbell look, with plenty of pink (hair, cravat, tights, and tutu) to complement her black doublet. Next up, Jasmine Bracey makes a memorable Ghost of Christmas Present, reveling in the delights of the season but not afraid to serve Scrooge with harsh condemnations of his own hypocrisy. Finally, the silent, menacing Ghost of Christmas Future, played by the hooded and stilted Breon Arzell, takes Scrooge through the final leg of his journey, ending in his own un-mourned death.
Many additional characters help to bring this classic to life, from the fun-loving Fezziwigs (Jonah D. Winston and Penelope Walker) to the endearingly awkward young adult Scrooge (Christopher Sheard), and more. With plenty of singing, dancing (choreographed by Tommy Rapley), and live music (composed by Andrew Hansen), it would take a harder heart than Scrooge's to come away without a smile. Moreover, the message of empathy and charity for one's "fellow passengers to the grave" is always timely and relevant. May we all remember its importance this holiday season.
Photo credit: Liz Lauren
Review by Emily McClanathan