By Anna DeNoia
Since its inaugural production in 1978, the Goodman Theatre has invited Ebenezer Scrooge back to the stage year after year to the delight of Chicago theatregoers of all ages. Even as stages sat empty last winter, the carol was still heard in thousands of homes as an audio play. Now, after a season of seclusion that pushed the power of our community and our goodwill to the brink, the triumphant Christmas Carol returns— an impassioned celebration of the strength of that goodwill, deeply felt by all present (and past and future).
The excitement from this clear community of cast members is infectious from the very first, matched only by the buzz of their audience. As the ensemble gathers around their narrator, master storyteller Andy White, the audience, too, leans in, eager to echo the tale’s familiar opening remarks. (Dead as a doornail, indeed, that Jacob Marley!) This energy, this indescribable electricity, this live theatre magic we’ve all mourned and missed flows from stage to house to stage again.
Having played the role thirteen times previously, Larry Yando is certainly a seasoned Scrooge. He commits completely to the despicable behavior of everyone’s favorite holiday curmudgeon, sincere in his “humbugs” with just enough levity. Yando’s Scrooge is sardonic, but never sinister, and he walks this thin line with ease, allowing us to recognize Scrooge’s villainous behavior while still enjoying his quick wit. The character’s nastiness is made obvious without fostering any of the potential resentment an audience could bear for such a selfish man. Instead, Yando makes it easy for his audience to root for their protagonist, invested from the first in his well-known journey of transformation.
Telling such a well-known story comes with its challenges. How do you surprise an audience that already knows your story beat for beat, line for line? Carol uses the audience’s knowledge to its advantage. Sure, we know what’s coming, but how will it come? What will it look, sound, feel like? Director Jessica Thebus capitalizes on this, and she rakes in the payoffs, especially in the case of Marley’s arrival— a moment of stage spectacle I dare not spoil.
Such moments are greatly aided by the intensity of Richard Woodbury’s sound design. The thunderous clanging of chains permeates chest-deep, and the voice of each spirit comes through with a slightly distant, very effective otherworldly quality. This sonic tapestry is completed by Andrew Hansen’s compositions— another Christmas Carol veteran with fifteen seasons under his belt. Made up mostly of classic Christmas tunes, and played live by the actors on stage, some musical highlights include Gregory Hirte’s remarkable work on the fiddle during the joyous sequence that is Old Fezziwig’s annual Christmas party, as well as the voice of Bethany Thomas. Her warm and wonderful alto Ghost of Christmas Present is both terribly powerful and lovingly soothing.
As familiar as it may be, Scrooge’s journey from bitter isolation to giddy gratitude at his chance to return to the world a better man is still full of timely lessons and emotional moments that pack a real punch. Dry eyes are unlikely as Scrooge’s change of heart brings him to his niece’s home on Christmas day. The sincere reunion will be deeply felt by any with family estranged by point of view, as well as inspire hope in our incredible human ability to change. And yes, I did say niece, not nephew. In an expansion upon Dickens, this Christmas Carol is for all, with a new take on many of its classic characters. This London is wildly and wonderfully diverse, with a great number of the characters played by actors of color, as well as many more female characters than the story usually sees– not only niece “Frida” but both Fezziwigs, just as merry as ever in their love for one another.
This year’s Christmas Carol is sure to delight both those who have taken part in the tradition year after year and newcomers alike. Overflowing with infectious joy, it is a true celebration of the hope, community and theatrical magic we spent so many months longing for– and what a conscious joy it now is that we can sit side by side, experiencing it together.
A Christmas Carol runs through December 31st at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn St, Chicago. For tickets or more information, please call (312) 443-3800 or visit goodmantheatre.org.
Proof of vaccination (fourteen days after second dose for ages 12+; fourteen days after first dose for children 5 – 11) with an FDA or WHO-authorized vaccine is required for all guests. For unvaccinated children under 12 and other exceptions, a recent negative COVID-19 test will be accepted. Masks are required at all times while inside Goodman Theatre
Photos by Liz Lauren.