As the year winds down, the holiday season amps up. Macy’s unveils its annual festival window displays, the open-air Christkindlmarket kicks-off to spread cheer from The Daley Plaza and The Goodman Theatre mounts its seminal Charles Dicken’ classic, A Christmas Carol. The return of this timeless and heart-warming institution, the ultimate tale of redemption, reinforced the message about the responsibilities of those who have to help those who have not. The theme of atoning for one’s sins is particularly pointed, considering the nation’s current derisive political climate. Returning for this year’s 41st annual production, Larry Yando’s marking his 11th annual appearance as the curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge, while also marking the 6th year Artistic Associate Henry Wishcamper helms the Director’s chair. Tom Creamer’s script, adopted from the Charles Dickens’ tale, still holds up quite nicely. The diverse acting ensemble continued to be cast with a bold, colorblind stroke. Returning for her second consecutive year as Tiny Tim, precocious 5th grader and neuroblastoma cancer survivor, Paris Strickland, stealing scenes as easily as she stole hearts.
While the tale traditionally centered on nasty old Ebenezer, this year all eyes were on the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. Molly Brennan’s Ghost of Christmas Past was adorned much like an imaginative Super Plum Fairy, with hot pink wings, brightly colored costume accents and bracelet prop lights strategically placed near the palms of her hands. This high flying Ghost of Christmas past mirroring current pop/rock star P!nk, summersaulting and soaring both powerfully and gracefully above the three story stagingwith flying effects provided by ZFX Inc. Joining Brennan for a night of Christmas Scrooge dream haunting, Jasmine Bracey, The Ghost of Christmas Present. She is all things joy, spreading gold lame gown ensconced bravado, usurping Scrooge’s negativity with the multiple tosses of a handful of golden glitter into the air. It is refreshing to see not one, but two women successfully drive the story here, not just playing second fiddle to their male counterpart.
I was concerned for the little ones sitting around me when the dark and menacing Ghost of Christmas Future (Breon Arzell) arrived, festooned in a dark, hooded cloak, perched atop a set of Actor Gymnasium stilts, until one little boy sitting nearby turned to his mother and said “don’t be scared, Mommy.” Totally adorable and broke the onstage tension created by Keith Parkham’s dramatic, exaggerated lighting, as Scrooge faced a bleak future of death and isolation both for himself and those around him. Could Ebenezer change? I think we all know the answer to that.
Rounding out the cast and creative team, tweaking the original tale, nephew Fred became niece Frida (Ali Burch) this year. The head of the Cratchit family, Bob, was portrayed by new to the cast, Thomas J. Cox, his wife Mrs. Cratchit a spirited Lily Mojekwu and as eldest daughter, Martha Cratchit, one of my favorite rising stars amongst the Chicago theatrical scene, Ariana Burks, once again demonstrating her powerhouse vocals during an Act 2 holiday carol. Heidi Sure McMath’s lavish period costuming and Tommy Rapley’s festive party scene choreography are both winningly on display during the Fezziwig’s (Penelope Walker & Jonathan Nook) holiday soiree scene. Todd Rosenthal’s imposing two-story set continued to add surprising and startling, nightmarish chain-rattling and some giggle inducing, jump out of your seat moments of genuine suspense.
Since 1978, The Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol has championed essential rotating changes in their casting process, both colorblind and gender-neutral long before people really started to take notice of such things. While the actors have altered over the years, the heart on stage and off, has always remained firmly intact. Continuing to prove itself a shining jewel in a very crowded holiday show landscape, the Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol continues to entertain viewers of all ages. Over 1.5 million viewers to be exact if their annual press releases are to be believed. With their signature lush staging, maudlin characters, and texture and sentimentality winning out over flash and razzmatazz, the Goodman’s A Christmas Carol is a time honored Windy City tradition that continues to be enjoyed by all.
Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol is now playing through December 30, 2018