Timeless classics are often some of the most difficult productions to put on, simply because audiences arrive in waves with preconceived notions and memories attached to the stories they have heard since childhood. Each member enters expecting something fresh and exciting, while simultaneously still hoping for a production that will stay true to the story with which they are familiar. Going to see Goodman Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol” is a tradition for many Chicago families, and this year’s version, adapted by Tod Creamer and directed by Steve Scott, does not fail to impress.
Originality is brought to the role of Scrooge through the return of actor Larry Yando as the infamous humbug turned generous family-man. Yando is joined by Ron Rains (Bob Cratchit), Penelope Walker (Ghost of Christmas Present), and Karen Jane Woditsch (Mrs. Cratchit), all of whom have returned to The Goodman for more than three seasons of “Carol.” The same things that bring these actors back year after year also bring audiences back: Goodman’s attention to detail.
A perfect example of this is found in the scenery, which helps to create a world for the audience to delve into with little suspension of disbelief. Set designer Todd Rosenthal converts the stage successfully into an old-world London street with intricately designed rooms that are striking in their craftsmanship and attention to the most minute details—even down to the newspapers stacked in Scrooge’s bedroom (replicas of real London times from the 1800s). Another example is found in the exquisitely made costumes. From simple rags on beggars to light-up suits on ghosts, designer Heidi Sue McMath makes sure that no one goes on stage without looking their absolute best.
Dressed well and with festive sets to back them, the actors set out on the journey to bring Christmas cheer to every heart in the audience, regardless of religion, race or age. The play contains color-blind casting (casting without regard to actors’ ethnicity), which brings a refreshing perspective to a classic very often produced with an entirely white cast. Yando plays a convincing grump and makes a heartfelt transition as he is visited by his three ghosts over the course of two hours. The over-dramatization of such a miser, where it might be inappropriate in other settings, melds well with Scrooge’s extreme transition in the spirit of Christmas.
By staying true to Charles Dickens’ original tale, while also providing the classic story with the comforts of modern technology to allow flying ghosts and falling snow, the magic of “A Christmas Carol” is brought to life splendidly with this year’s production. Although some aspects such as Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Future may frighten small children, the joy that is brought by the actors is sure to be fun for families of any age. The actors conclude the play with a short rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” ensuring that you leave the theater with fond memories of this Christmas Carol.