As a marketing technique for the 40th anniversary production of A Christmas Carol, Goodman Theatre released a humorous meme: “you before seeing Christmas Carol” (with an image of Scrooge in his most miserly state) vs “you after seeing Christmas Carol” (with an image of post-spiritual awakening happy Scrooge). I chuckled lightly at the image when I first saw it, but I never anticipated how accurate it would be; I left the theatre feeling “as light as a feather, [...] as happy as an angel, [...] as merry as a schoolboy.”
A Christmas Carol is pure holiday magic, plain and simple, and this is coming from a cynic who can’t stand the unabashed joy of The Music Man, a heretic who just finds Phantom of the Opera misogynist and creepy. Yet Goodman does so much more than merely presenting Dickens’ heartfelt albeit male-centric tale. They make alterations, ever so slight ones like turning Scrooge’s nephew Fred to a niece “Frida”, and in doing so, create a Christmas that is compassionate, joyful, and most importantly, inclusive.
Reprising the role of Scrooge and leading this all-star cast is Larry Yando, a Scrooge perfectly recalcitrant and, eventually, infectiously elated. Though I’m still not sold on her punk-rock costuming, Molly Brennan’s Ghost of Christmas Past offers an energetic and refreshingly different take on the show’s first spirit, followed by Lisa Gaye Dixon’s wonderful turn as the typically male-portrayed Ghost of Christmas Present. Ali Birch is especially warm and genuine as Frida, and I would venture to guess that there was not a dry eye in the audience as Paris Strickland’s Tiny Tim blessed everyone in one of the play’s most beloved lines. In short, the cast as a whole was outstanding, with not a notable weak link among them.
I would be remiss to not mention the set (Todd Rosenthal), lighting (Keith Parham) and costume design (Heidi Sue McMath) as well. As a first time Goodman-Christmas-Carol-goer, I was blown away by the show’s execution of challenging effects and stunning costumes (elements further challenged by the sheer number of scene transitions and costume changes). The live music peppered throughout the show, composed by Andrew Hansen and executed by a crew of talented musicians, added an additional unique and lovely element to the production.
During this troubling political time, we often talk about “now more than ever,” typically referring to the need to have difficult discussions and to challenge systemic issues head on. But sometimes, “now more than ever” can refer to a need for optimism, for kindness, for hope. A Christmas Carol is the holiday show that we need.
Review by Emily Schmidt
A Christmas Carol continues at Goodman Theatre through Dec. 31. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.