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Theater Fri Dec 04 2015

Unlike Scrooge, Goodman's A Christmas Carol Never Gets Old

A Christmas Carol at Goodman Theatre

For the past 38 years, the Goodman Theatre's adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been an annual Chicago tradition. After four decades you'd think Chicagoans might grow tired of it, but even during its opening week in mid-November 2015, the city's oldest still-running theatre is still packed with people. The reason is simple: Goodman's A Christmas Carol is arguably one of the best--and most accessible--literary stage adaptations in the world.

It's also the best version of the story I've seen. Albert Finney's musical, Disney's earnest Mickey's Christmas Carol, the light-hearted A Muppet Christmas Carol, Patrick Stewart's TV movie in 1999, and ten years later, that awkward performance capture vehicle from Robert Zemeckis. None of those attempts come close to Goodman's ability to capture the heart of Dickens' story and translate it into an emotional experience for a modern audience. The primarily feeling emanating from the stage and audience alike can only be described with the word mirth (which is the first time I've used that adjective in my life).

If a Victorian era literary adaptation sounds stiff and dry, think again. Carol is as engaging, surprising, emotional, and technologically impressive as any contemporary Hollywood film. Todd Rosenthal's set design is detailed, gorgeous, and immersive. Some of the stage effects--particularly when Scrooge's ghosts appear--are so frightening and dramatic, I'm pretty sure they would have terrified me as a child. But director Henry Wishcamper strikes a perfect balance between scares, laughs, and moist-eye moments.

You already know the story, and Tom Creamer's take is faithful without feeling bloated. Ebeneezer Scrooge, a bitter, penny-pinching banker in mid-19th century London, is visited by four spirits on Christmas Eve: his late partner Jacob Marley, followed by the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future, each taking Scrooge on a trip through time and space to learn more about himself and the world around him, provoking a stunning change in character.

The subtle, often physical way veteran actor Larry Yando embodies Scrooge's arc from cruel miser to redeemed family man is a delight to behold, and Kareem Bandealy is perfectly cast as Scrooge's younger, socially awkward self. The musicians embedded in the cast, along with the child actors spread throughout the play's ensemble scenes, add to the festive atmosphere. Kudos as well to the Goodman for such a diverse cast, from the ghosts to the members of the Cratchit family. Lisa Gaye Dixon is a revelation as the rhapsodic Ghost of Christmas Present, and Penelope Walker's Mrs. Cratchit exudes maternal warmth and charm.

If you've never seen one of A Christmas Carol's countless stage and movie adaptations, Goodman's version is the one to see. Honestly, I think it's even more enjoyable than reading Dickens' original story (and I'm a bibliophile). If you haven't already, make it an annual Christmas tradition.

A Christmas Carol runs through December 27 at the Goodman Theatre (170 N Dearborn) every day of the week except for Mondays and Christmas Day. Tickets are $25 to $102 and can be purchased online or by calling 312-443-3800. The show is 2 hours plus a 10-minute intermission.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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