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Goodman Theatre’s magical ‘Christmas Carol’ redeems sour Scrooge with heart and laughter

Submitted by on Dec 3, 2011 – 6:34 am 2 Comments

Review: “A Christmas Carol” at the Goodman Theatre through Dec. 31. ****

By Nancy Malitz

It takes a deft directorial hand, big-hearted actors and lots of practice to create a Scrooge who is mean in a way that can sear adult hearts and still draw high-pitched giggles. But that is what the Goodman Theatre has done in its 34th annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” a retelling for all ages, starring Larry Yando as an incandescent Ebenezer.

The cranky old miser learns it’s never too late to become a better person. But he’s a wonderfully slow learner, and he takes the audience with him step by delightful step in Tom Creamer’s adaptation of Dickens’ tale. Creamer’s treatment is concise, witty and unerringly rich in Dickensian charm, starting with an animated discussion as the curtain rises on the important subject of just how dead Old Marley is.

Generally, productions that are created for young and old alike tend to get it about half right. But this show coaxes tears and laughter from the full spectrum of its audience. It’s a tribute to the light, sophisticated touch of director Steve Scott and to the many endearing portraits of Londoners at the crossroads of their lives, created by an ethnically diverse cast of Goodman regulars and nine first-timers including Roni Akurati as Tiny Tim.

To watch the story unfold as an adult is to be reminded of those fleeting moments of happiness and of opportunities missed, gone forever except in memory, that haunt us all. Of course the children in the audience, who are so much wiser than the rest of us, know that even this miserable old mixer is capable of drawing back from the very brink of Doom, and they’re on his side early on.

Yando and director Scott show respect for their newest observers and generously indulge Ebenezer’s moments of self-discovery as he begins to understand the brutal cost of slighting an impoverished child, shunning youthful love and ignoring his next of kin. It was a hoot to watch the protracted post-Christmas pranks of the redeemed Scrooge as he scampered about his office preparing to surprise the wits out of his long-suffering employee Bob Cratchit (the excellent Ron Rains), to the barely suppressed laughter of those in the audience.

Scrooge’s reclamation is no mean thing to accomplish, of course. Goodman Theatre’s production has some solid tricks up its sleeve to help Old Marley’s ghost and the other Christmas Spirits chase the humbug out of him. The reprobate’s upper-story flat, designed by Todd Rosenthal, is the perfect launch pad for scarifying trapdoor effects and gravity-defying stunts that will mark  Scrooge’s night of surprises. The sets, rich in the brick and iron hues of Old London, were well enhanced by Robert Christen’s moody lighting and by sound designer Richard Woodbury’s ghostified voices and clanking chains, echoing into the abyss.

Jarrod Zimmerman in his Goodman debut as the already souring young adult Scrooge, Karen Janes Woditsch as Cratchit’s hilariously acerbic wife, and Ora Jones as the outspoken charwoman are typical of the cast whose richness and definition enliven the whole. Some traditions become stale over time, but this edition of Goodman’s “A Christmas Carol” is abundantly fresh, a wonderful ornament in Chicago’s holiday collection.

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Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: Ebenezer Scrooge (Larry Yando) pours over paperwork at his desk. Left: A frightened Scrooge (Yando) unexpectedly finds himself face to face with the Ghost of Christmas Future. Upper right: Tiny Tim (Roni Akurati) proclaims, “God bless us everyone!” on the shoulders of Scrooge (Yando). Lower right: Belle (Nora Fiffer) and Scrooge as a Young Man (Jarrod Zimmerman) partake in a slow waltz as Scrooge (Yando) watches on. (Photos by Dean LaPraire)

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