Review by Julie Goldsberry; photo by Liz Lauren
The magic and wonder of Christmas is something that may wax and wane each year as you grow older. Traditions are thought to be outgrown or become repetitive so they are left behind. A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theater is the perfect antidote to this mindset. The story is well known and you may have been to the production before, but you are not the same person you were the last time you saw it.
Everyone knows the story of the journey of Ebenezer Scrooge from a Bah Humbugging old miser to someone who has rediscovered the magic and meaning of Christmas with the help of three ghostly visitors. But, when was the last time you sat down and watched this story? Which character was the one you identified with the most? There is a good possibility that it would be a different character this time and different again the next time you see it as well. This truly is a production that grows with you as you grow as a person.
The Goodman Theater brings A Christmas Carol to life with the perfect balance of whimsy and reality. With a band of minstrels who walk through street scenes and the actors singing carols a capella to bring an extra shot of Christmas cheer, it is easy to see why this production is a Chicago favorite. This is in addition to the fact that the cast is impeccable and they draw you into the stage so you feel as if you have been transported to 1843 England.
With Larry Yando wearing the mantle of Ebenezer Scrooge for the twelfth year, his performance is as endearing and comedic as ever. From the first scene where he is scare-your-socks-off at “full Scrooge” to the last scene where he is so full of Christmas spirit you are waiting for him to take flight, he is a delight through and through. You are drawn in and become invested in going on all three visits from the spirits of Christmas. Regardless of the fact you know what happens at the very end, there are several points during the play that you worry about Mr. Scrooge and if his poor heart might break having to relive his past, seeing the truth of the present and what will happen if he doesn’t change his ways in the future.
The spirits are brought to life with a splash of color and shot of energy that balances the perfectly understated ‘London fog’ feel of the set. Their costumes, designed by Heidi McMath, provide a sense of playfulness that accentuates the brilliance of the actors’ performances while still separating them from the mortals on the stage. The Ghost of Christmas Past, played by Milly Brennan, dons a costume that is whimsical and uses a bright magenta that is a nod to the fact that she represents Ebenezer’s childhood. This ghost is also the only one who flies, and brings Scrooge along for the ride as if to reconnect him with the innocence lost from his childhood.
The Ghost of Christmas Present, played by Jasmine Bracey, provides a warm glow on the stage, clothed in gold and spreading Christmas cheer with showers of golden glitter. Not to mention her radiant smile that accompanies her amazing laugh resonating throughout the theater as she shows Scrooge how much the people in his life loved and wanted to include him.
The Ghost of Christmas Future, played by Breon Arzeli, doesn’t say a single word, but drives home the core message of the play: it is never too late to change for the better. Scrooge does all of the talking in the scenes with the Ghost of Christmas Future, but he is the spirit that shows Scrooge the thing that he fears the most.
The ensemble, adorned in the attire of the time, complete with top hats, scarves, gloves and shawls, will dance their way into your heart, making you yearn to get up, dance and make merry. They embody the spirit of Christmas that Scrooge at first fights against and then embraces with his whole being at the end.
This performance magic happens on a set designed by Todd Rosenthal under lights designed by Keith Parham that help to distinguish between real life and the world of the spirits. With seamless transitions between scenes and ghostly surprises, the set design is an inanimate costar that performs beautifully, transporting you to winter in London.
Do not pass up the opportunity to see A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theater this or any year. It truly is a Christmas treat.
A Christmas Carol is now playing at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, until Dec 29. Check the website for specific dates, times, and tickets. Find more information about current plays in our front page recs and attheatreinchicago.com.