Review: A Sensory Feast of Yuletide Splendor: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at The Goodman Theatre

A holiday spectacle that will be etched in the memories of all fortunate enough to witness it!

By: Nov. 29, 2023
Review: A Sensory Feast of Yuletide Splendor: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at The Goodman Theatre
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Review: A Sensory Feast of Yuletide Splendor: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at The Goodman Theatre

Prepare to be transported to a world of enchantment with the recent staging of A Christmas Carol at The Goodman Theatre, where the real star of the show wasn't just the stellar cast but the truly spectacular set design and inclusive casting that left the audience utterly mesmerized. From the moment the curtain rose, the stage was transformed into a breathtaking Victorian-era dreamscape, evoking the charm and nostalgia of Dickens' classic tale. The meticulous attention to detail in the stage scenery was nothing short of extraordinary, creating a visually stunning backdrop that seamlessly blended with the narrative.

The streets of 19th-century London came alive with a level of authenticity that was awe-inspiring. The bustling street vendors, flickering gas lamps, and intricately designed storefronts transported the audience to a bygone era, immersing us in the very heart of Scrooge's world. The set was not merely a backdrop but an active participant in the storytelling, enhancing the atmosphere and enriching the overall theatrical experience.

Bringing to life the legendary curmudgeon Ebeneezer Scrooge was none other than Larry Yando. His portrayal of this iconic character was a true masterclass in acting. Yando took us on an expertly crafted character arc: from the opening scenes, his sour and miserly attitude had you crawling in your skin, and by the curtain call this changed man had you weeping for his newfound generosity and love of life. Yando’s portrayal of Scrooge, even in scenes pre-change of heart, was especially spirited and peppered with physical comedy that had the audience in stitches all evening.

Reminding us to be joyful in the face of hardship was the kindly Thomas J. Cox in the role of Bob Cratchit. His easy smile and cheerful demeanor make him a natural fit for this beloved character.  Cox’s performance truly came to life in scenes with his family at home, especially during tender moments between him and the iconic Tiny Tim (played by the winsome Christian Lucas). Emphasis on physical comedy being a theme of the production, his antics sneaking in an extra piece a coal into the furnace behind Scrooge’s back were a humorous touch to an otherwise serious story.  I do find it curious that the latter part of the famous line “it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see” was changed to “remember… the less fortunate,” but I’m sure the creative team had their reasons.

Review: A Sensory Feast of Yuletide Splendor: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at The Goodman Theatre One of the most festive scenes of the production was Fezziwig’s grand Christmas party from Scrooge’s youth. In a refreshingly delightful display of inclusive casting, Robert Schleifer portrayed Fezziwig, and as a deaf actor signed all his lines in ASL while another performer translated for the audience. Schleifer’s high energy and jolly demeanor brought to life this most generous of benefactors, a key character in Scrooge’s past. In another display of embracing the hearing impaired, the entire cast signed and sang a heartwarming rendition of We Wish you a Merry Christmas after the curtain call.

Review: A Sensory Feast of Yuletide Splendor: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at The Goodman Theatre Each specter that visited Scrooge brought their own unique, otherworldly, and sometimes frightening flair to their character. Starting off strong was the imperious Kareem Bandealy in the role of Jacob Marley, wearing “the chain I forged in life.” His tortured cries of anguish and pleading warnings to Scrooge delivered in a booming voice had the entire audience utterly spellbound.

Contrasting this unsettling visit was the ethereal Ghost of Christmas Past. Portrayed by Lucky Stiff, their soft, mystical glow transported the audience through time and even though the air, with an impressive use of a fly system that ferried both the Ghost and Scrooge above the action. As regal and poised as this Ghost’s demeanor was, the Ghost of Christmas Present’s was every bit brusque and jovial. We are introduced to Bethany Thomas in this role as she sings a heavenly version of The Holly and the Ivy, she herself decked head to toe in both. Her commanding yet approachable air made her seem like a beaming combination of Saint Nick and Mother Nature herself. As her time with Scrooge expires, he finds himself in the haunting presence of The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Daniel José Molina). The eerie scene that unfolds is replete with figures adorned with plague doctors’ beaked masks, a foggy cemetery, and of course the unsettling children, the drivers of the Earth’s ills: Ignorance and Want. With this final visitor, Scrooge has finally resolved to change his ways, adopt the spirit of Christmas, and look out for his fellow man. 

The women in Scrooge’s life leave an indelible mark on him and shape the story profoundly.  First, Amira Danan as young Scrooge’s Fiancé Belle was nothing short of radiant. Danan’s gentle yet self-assured portrayal of this charming character was so captivating to watch that one wished she appeared in more scenes. The emotional nuance she was able to convey was just as impressive as her mastery of a Scottish accent. Next, Dee Dee Batteast as Scrooge’s niece Frida did a fabulous job of delivering this kindhearted and persistent young woman.  Batteast’s Frida was just as tenacious as she was persistent, key qualities in this character who ultimately brings Scrooge back into the land of the living.

Set changes were executed with precision, creating a dynamic and fluid visual narrative that complemented the emotional arc of the story. Whether it was Scrooge's austere counting house or the bustling streets during Christmas morning, every scene was a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship of the set designers.

The costumes, too, harmonized with the set design, enhanced the overall aesthetic, and contributed to the immersive experience. The attention to period-accurate details and the vibrant color palette added an extra layer of authenticity, making each character visually distinct and memorable.  Finally, the live musicians that frequented the stage were the cherry on top to an already exquisite performance. The flutist and fiddlers brought a joyful aura to the Christmas atmosphere which is incomplete without festive music.

In essence, A Christmas Carol at The Goodman Theatre wasn't just a play; it was a sensory feast that unfolded before our eyes. It’s a remarkable feat to make a 180-year-old story new, but director Jessica Thebus managed to do just that. The set design, with its meticulous craftsmanship and imaginative flair, elevated the production to new heights, making it a holiday spectacle that will be etched in the memories of all fortunate enough to witness it. This rendition of Dickens' timeless classic, with its unparalleled visual artistry, is a testament to the power of theater to transport us to worlds where the magic of Christmas comes alive in every intricately designed detail.

A Christmas Carol at The Goodman Theatre runs through December 31, 2023. Tickets can be purchased here.

Photo credit: Liz Lauren


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