An Enduring Classic with Modern Flair – By Julia Szromba

January 7, 2013 in Blog by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

As we are drawn in to the overwhelming rush of the Christmas season, full of hectic Black Friday shopping, holiday meal planning, and preparations for winter getaways, there is one tradition that all Chicagoans should add to their lists: attending ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Goodman Theatre. Tom Creamer’s beautiful rendition of this Dickens classic under the direction of Steve Scott is heartwarming at any age and will make you feel the magic of Christmas in a powerful, refreshing way.

‘A Christmas Carol’ chronicles the journey of Ebenezer Scrooge, a man who is as gruff as his name suggests, through a night when supernatural spirits force him to question his greedy lifestyle by allowing him to visit his past, present, and future Christmases. It is the story of redemption, told with grand set and costume design that fully immerses viewers in this 19th century tale. From the moment the play begins with the famous line, “Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail,” to the closing squeak of Tiny Tim’s “God Bless us, every one!” I was content to be lost in Scrooge’s world. From the charming two-story set piece of his counting office to the absolutely frightening ghost of Christmas Future, I laughed and cried just as Scrooge did.

All at once ‘A Christmas Carol’ feels like peeking through the windows of some private memory and also like a warm welcome from an old friend. You’ll feel as though you are listening in on many private moments, while still being embraced by each character. As Scrooge travels to past, present, and future, we follow close behind.

A huge portion of credit goes, of course, to the actors, primarily Larry Yando who plays Scrooge. He was fully present in each scene and genuinely enjoyed his role, allowing viewers to cringe, sigh, and smile with him, without making it clichéd or overacted. Another highlight was Bob Cratchit, played by Ron Rains, who provided an equal dose of comic relief and gut-wrenching emotion as he cared for his family during even the most trying circumstances.

As for the spirits, I did shake my head in confusion when the ghost of Christmas Past came flying in decked out in glitter and neon-lighted tubes. And there was entirely too much fog and strobe lighting in a production that is better suited for softly falling snowflakes and the muted lighting of candles and fireplaces. These set distractions were just too much on an otherwise perfectly realistic and understated stage. Despite this fault, though, how could I not sit back and grin during Mr. and Mrs. Fezzywig’s Christmas party as the entire cast danced to live music and Young Scrooge fell in love for the first time with just the right amount of nervous emotion and secretive smiles? This is where the feeling of peeking in through the windows takes full effect: as snowflakes drift outside, the tree is decorated, drinks are poured, and the eavesdropping can begin.

As Scrooge’s icy heart thaws with each visitation by a spirit, the story becomes more significant and relatable to any audience. His transformed relationship with Bob Cratchit from unforgiving boss to caring friend is told subtly, revealing the true spirit of Christmas without being obvious. Scrooge may seem like an outlandish, bad-tempered old man, but we can all recognize a part of ourselves in him, especially around the holidays when expenses pile up and stress levels rise. The message that our treatment of others is what defines us as human beings, rather than the money we make, is as meaningful to us now as it was in Victorian times. Perhaps that is why his epiphany continues to inspire us more than 150 years after Dickens finished this, one of his most prized legacies.

You won’t want to miss this beautiful production of a holiday classic, created with an elegance and realism that the Goodman Theatre has perfected after years of fine-tuning. ‘A Christmas Carol’ is representative of what Christmas should be, and after seeing this show, you may never utter a “Bah humbug” ever again.