The Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” is Full of Holiday Cheer – By Ciara Wardlow

January 14, 2013 in Blog by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

Many of us have a love-hate relationship Charles Dickens’ work. While many of his dense, lengthy tomes are among the most studied and acclaimed works of all time, one of his shorter stories is nearest and dearest to the public’s heart: “A Christmas Carol.” With countless stage and film adaptations, Scrooge’s (mis)adventures are some of the most well-known and beloved of holiday tales.

Adapted by Tom Creamer, this is the tale the Goodman Theatre has been telling for 35 years now.  Indeed, many of the major players, including director Steve Scott and Ebenezer Scrooge (Larry Yando) are veritable “Carol” veterans—and it shows. The show runs smoothly, producing a whole easily greater than the sum of its parts.

Yando’s Scrooge is both relatable and cold-hearted, but never heartless. His impeccable comic timing and expressive reactions add up to a Scrooge who’s not just cruel, but cruelly funny—and a pleasure to watch. He somehow captures the essence of Scrooge and add just a little bit more, keeping a character as familiar as the back of one’s hand fresh and interesting to watch.

On the other hand, the Ghost of Christmas Past (Elizabeth Ledo) seemed awkwardly out of place, despite being well acted. Everything from her appearance to her intonation screamed “Peter Pan” (a la Cathy Rigby), not “Christmas.” Intentional or not, I found this allusion to be more distracting than anything else. It jolted me out of the world of “A Christmas Carol” back into my theater seat with a nearby child whisper-whining about who-knows-what and a 20-something “inconspicuously” texting, and it took me a good chunk of the first act to be sucked back in to Scrooge’s world.

While the first act is good, the second is truly great. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Penelope Walker) is jovial without being overly sympathetic to Scrooge’s plight, and the silent Ghost of Christmas Future is portrayed smartly as a larger-than-life, deliciously eerie automaton-like reaper shrouded in fog. (On that note, you might want to avoid the front row—frequently the fog billows off the stage).

Technically, the show is stunning: from the lights to the settings to the acoustics, everything is used to its full potential to create an atmosphere which ranges from festive to frightening (including strobe lights, as fair warning to those sensitive to such things). Todd Rosenthal’s impressive, cleverly detailed sets help ensure that “A Christmas Carol” comes across as timeless, not dated, more along the lines of a fairytale or a fable than historical. Heidi Sue McMath’s costumes are well-designed, but not distracting (with the possible exception of The Ghost of Christmas Past being a Peter-Pan look-a-like).

All in all, the Goodman’s production of “A Christmas Carol” maintains Dickens’ story while making it more accessible for a modern (and younger) audience, and is more than worthy of becoming its own holiday tradition. The show clocks in at around 2 hours and 20 minutes and runs through December 29th.