A Christmas Carol – By Melissa Needlman

May 21, 2012 in Cindy Bandle Young Critics by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens
Sunday, November 27th at 2:00, The Goodman Theatre

“A Christmas Carol” exceeded my expectations for the seasonal, Dickensian classic. The entire play is permeated with good cheer, riotous music and dance; it exhibits an ever-present Christmas spirit rooted in good-heartedness that theater-goers of all religious denominations can enjoy.

Larry Yando’s Scrooge is central to the classic tale. After many years of driving people away and choosing to count money instead of enjoy all life has to offer, Scrooge’s cantankerous miserliness catches up with him; he is visited by the ghost of his former business associate, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. All of these specters visit him on Christmas Eve and use their supernatural powers to bestow a crucial message: Change your “bah, humbug” ways, Scrooge, or there will be nobody to remember you fondly.

The play’s atmosphere is fizzy with kid-friendly cheer. The large cast establishes a feeling of camaraderie: their Victorian-era townspeople know how to have a good time even with little money and an even littler Christmas goose.

Penelope Walker’s Ghost of Christmas Present is a ray of sunshine, dressed to the nines and never afraid to throw some glitter. Compared to Walker and Elizabeth Ledo’s angelic, flying Ghost of Christmas Past, though, the Ghost of Christmas Future sticks out like a sore thumb. Appearing as a behemoth grim reaper, the Ghost of Christmas Future’s presence feels discomfiting and almost alien to the 19th-century setting. Still, Future’s menacing silence combines with eerie sound effects to successfully shift the play into a more austere and somber mood.

The staging stayed comfortably balanced throughout the entire performance despite the constant shift of the elaborate, beautifully crafted sets. With some ingenious backstage choreography, Scrooge’s cluttered workplace is transformed into the crowded, charming Cratchit abode within seconds. The set design’s fresh transition from elaborate to minimalist is striking. Some of the play’s most poignant moments occur with a simple background — a rusted gate or a carpet of stars. This simplicity underscores the play’s message of good cheer untainted by materialism, even amidst the production’s glitz and incredible detail

The costume choices run the gamut from resplendent to urchin-esque, successfully encapsulating the era’s fashions and adding a layer of credibility to the story. The actors are enthralling to watch, carrying the story at a nice, clipped pace and filling the story with personality and liveliness.

Scrooge’s transformation is one to be relished, not hurried along; his heightened gaiety at the play’s close- complete with a scene of him dancing around, uninhibited, in his dressing gown- dissolved any remaining traces of cynicism left within my heart.

The cast never exploits the play’s sentimentality or caricatures the working poor as solely foolish, vacant revelers or one-dimensional, pious simps. Jon Hudson Odom brings lots of heart to his role as Scrooge’s nephew, Mr. Wilkins, and shows unexpected depth when straining to keep up his spirits despite facing much adversity.

Director Steve Scott’s vision of “A Christmas Carol” is a fabulous celebration of love, miracles, giving, and the fact that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. Merriment abounds. The gift of “A Christmas Carol” is simply a joy for everyone to behold.