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Goodman’s ‘Christmas Carol’ brings Yuletide treasure in magical form of Yando’s Scrooge

Submitted by on Dec 12, 2013 – 11:51 pm

Old Ebenezer Scrooge (Larry Yando, left) observes his younger self (Robert Hope) in a happy moment with Belle (Atra Asdou). (Liz Lauren)Review: “A Christmas Carol,” adapted for the stage by Tom Creamer from the novella by Charles Dickens, at Goodman Theatre through Dec. 28. ★★★★

By Lawrence B. Johnson

The sixth time is a charm for Larry Yando as that grasping, covetous old sinner Ebenezer Scrooge in the Goodman Theatre production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Or I should say, a charm again — just like Yando’s previous five outings in the part. His irascible but salvageable and very funny misanthrope remains a Scrooge for the young in heart and imagination. 

The Ghost of Christmas Present (A.C. Smith) spreads glittering joy in 'A Christmas Carol' at Goodman Theater. (Liz Lauren)Indeed, the Goodman’s take on “A Christmas Carol,” directed by Henry Wishcamper with a keen sense of wit as well as truth, is a treasure to be spread amply across entire families, a lovely package festooned with ghosts and mirth and sealed with the unmistakable stamp of moral verity.

Perhaps first of all, the show is a visual bounty in Todd Rosenthal’s vibrant sets, Heidi Sue McMath’s colorful costumes and Robert Christen’s evocative lighting.

Add to all that the wonderful ghosts – the guiltily encumbered form of Marley (Joe Foust) come to forewarn Scrooge, the petite specter of Christmas Past (Elizabeth Ledo) swooping in from above, the bounteous and jolly figure of Christmas Present (A.C. Smith), the huge and silent augury of Christmas Future – and you have the kind of theater magic that makes believers of us all.

But mostly we succumb because we are made to reflect in observing Larry Yando’s crustily insulated Scrooge, who knows not of charity but wishes only to be left alone to plunge headlong down his bleak and frozen path toward gain.

Yando plays the miser in broad strokes of farce that any child could comprehend, but he also shades his narcissistic character with nuances of progressive self-discovery. As he is reminded of what he has missed in his blindered life, the happiness he could have had and the love he could have known, it is the vulnerable souls in taller bodies that surely resonate.

The Ghost of Christmas Past (Elizabeth Ledo) schools Scrooge (Larry Yando)  on his ill-spent life in 'A Christmas Carol.' (Liz Lauren)Dickens’ story sustains its popularity through generations of Christmases because the chord it strikes sounds deeply and perpetually. Mankind is Scrooge’s business: Beware these two, intones the withering Spirit of Christmas Present as he reveals the gaunt childlike forms of Ignorance and Want. But beware especially Ignorance, the spirit concludes. A.C. Smith’s big voice unnerves Scrooge, our avatar. Now the comedy is gone – if only for the moment – and Yando’s credibly reeling Scrooge suddenly finds himself face to face with his destiny: the terrifying and implacable ghost of Christmas yet to come. His own future.

But of course, in a manner of speaking, the future does relent and so Yando’s chastened Scrooge awakens to discover – to his hysterical and hilarious amazement – that he has not missed Christmas, that the wondrous spirits have done it all in a single night.  The story’s lovely denouement is a comic actor’s dream, and Yando plays it with delirious joy, the lighter-than-air relief of a lost soul redeemed.

Scrooge's nephew Fred (Anish Jethmalani) and his wife (Tania Richard) celebrate Christmas without the old grouch. (Liz Lauren)Then, head bowed to the duty of his redemption, Yando’s Scrooge makes an affecting appeal for the forgiveness of his nephew Fred (Anish Jethmalani), whose Christmas cheer the old man has perennially rejected.

If that scene is played with solemnity, the payoff of “A Christmas Carol” – Scrooge’s atonement for his abuse of his clerk Bob Cratchit (the endearing Ron Rains) crowns the tale with touching comedy. Parodying himself, Yando’s mean old Scrooge terrifies his late-arriving clerk, only to embrace him with a “Merry Christmas,” an instant raise, more coal for the fire and a pledge to make up for years of ill use. I suspect the Ghost of Christmas Past’s question to Scrooge, about that drop on his cheek, might in the end have been put to almost anyone in the audience.

The Cratchit family gathers for Christmas dinner in 'A Christmas Carol' at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Lauren)At times, the Goodman’s somewhat streamlined telling of the story gives the impression of a punch-list of narrative necessities, but the key scenes bespeak real creative engagement and free-wheeling imagination. It’s like the gift you ask for and get. It’s still somehow a surprise, still wonderful.

Note: The Goodman has announced that Brian Urlacher, the Bears’ retired linebacker, will make a cameo appearance at the Dec. 27 performance. Betting is open on whether the six-foot-four NFL Hall of Fame prospect will play the Ghost of Christmas Future or, at somewhat longer odds, Tiny Tim. Or he may just be a face in the London Christmas Eve throng – perhaps the meat pie vendor wearing a No. 54 jersey.

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