A Christmas Carol
One of Chicago's treasured Christmas traditions, The Goodman Theatre's presentation of A Christmas Carol, is now enjoying its 39th annual production. Charles Dickens' timeless tale, given a high-spirited adaptation by Tom Creamer and directed by Henry Wishcamper, is none the worse for age: Like a favorite recipe to return to every holiday season, this Carol changes somewhat in each iteration, but it always satisfies.
Larry Yando, playing Scrooge for his ninth year, is a fine Christmas ham. Though his back is stooped and his hands show signs of palsy, Yando's Scrooge isn't weary. Rather than being apathetic to the suffering of the world; he revels in it. Perhaps because of this initial gusto, Scrooge's transition from hard-hearted miser to benevolent Christmas patron happens quickly, almost abruptly. Or, perhaps the Ghost of Christmas past (a shining Travis A. Knight) is magical enough to cause the transformation on his own. Scrooge is childishly delighted as the pair flies through the air at the beginning of their journey, and from that point on, he seems all but ready to embrace the Christmas spirit.
Before he can do that, of course, Scrooge must take a hard look at his past and his present, all in a parade of richly decorated sets designed by Todd Rosenthal. From schoolyard loneliness to a love lost, Scrooge's memories are brought to life by the Goodman's robust 24-person cast. Kristina Valada-Viars is warm and expressive as Belle, the young lass whose charms almost lured young Scrooge into a life of contentment. Valada-Viars is ably double-cast as Scrooge's good-humored niece Frida. While Frida has always heretofore been Scrooge's nephew Fred, the change works well here. As the long-suffering Bob Cratchit, Ron E. Raines brings good cheer, accompanied by the sweet Nathaniel Buescher as Tiny Tim.
All are costumed by Heidi Sue McMath, who provides not only festive winter frocks for Victorian London, but some fine Regency wear in flashbacks to Scrooge's youth. High praise, too, to the sound design work of Richard Woodbury. In addition to creating an excellent, otherworldly hellscape for Jacob Marley (in conjunction with lighting designer Keith Parham and a powerful performance by Joe Foust as Marley), Woodbury seamlessly blends live onstage music with prerecorded supplemental material — never an easy task. The live music itself is lovely, notably some spirited fiddle-playing in party scenes.
It's a testament to Dickens' classic tale, as well as the strong hand of director Wishcamper, that the heart of the story is never lost in all of the spectacle and pageantry onstage. Even if you know every beat of the tale by heart, it's always worth another visit. The Goodman has done it again, reminding us why we can't stay away from A Christmas Carol.