A Christmas Carol Is In The Spotlight Again
The holiday classic celebrates 35 years on the Goodman Theatre stage
In the Goodman Theatre's 35th production of the classic A Christmas Carol, the irascible Ebenezer Scrooge (left, played by Larry Yando) confronts Bob Cratchit (played by Ron Rains).
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THERE are some things that are just naturally a part of the Christmas season, and the annual production of A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre is one of those traditions that’s synonymous with the holidays.
This year represents 35 consecutive years that Charles Dickens’ 1843 tale of hope and redemption has come to the Goodman stage, enchanting audiences since 1978. It has been a joyous stretch of festive musical numbers, colorful costumes, ghosts taking flight and the antics of one of theater’s most memorable characters.
All of the music, pageantry, drama and emotion of the classic tale will be presented through December 29.
One of the highlights in a first-rate cast is the return of award-winning actor Larry Yando for his fifth portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge, the crabby, less-than-generous, wealthy businessman who “Bah Humbugs” everything associated with the holiday season and the poor. But Scrooge becomes a different person on one Christmas when four ghosts contribute to his complete transformation. “I think the best theater is about reflecting the human condition. [A Christmas Carol] is such a basic human story about redemption and change and overcoming pain and fear,” Yando says. “The most amazing thing about doing the show is that I know that for whatever reason the audience takes that journey with me. And to see the faces on the audience at the end and the tears on their faces when Scrooge finally emerges is just amazing and that alone is worth doing it again and again and again.”
Penelope Walker makes an appearance as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Scrooge (below) encounters the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley, played by Joe Foust.
The birth of A Christmas Carol at the Goodman actually came about out of necessity. There was concern about getting people to come to the theatre during December because people are generally occupied doing other things during the holiday season. During planning for the '78-'79 season, Roche Schulfer, the theatre's executive director, and artistic director Gregory Mosher first talked about doing a production with a holiday theme, something “like A Christmas Carol.” While continuing to exchange ideas they came to the realization that a presentation of A Christmas Carol would be the perfect vehicle for the holiday season. “It was actually a huge risk at the time because it was a much bigger production than the Goodman had ever done,” says Steve Scott, the director and producer who has worked on the play several times. “It had 26 or 27 actors and multiple sets. It was a much bigger venture, but the effect was almost instantaneous. It sold out its run in 1978 and then gradually became a yearly tradition. It’s one of the few holiday entertainments that everybody in the family can enjoy equally. Watching Scrooge transform is not only instructive to us, it’s a lot of fun because he turns from arguably the meanest man in the world into the happiest man in the world.”
During its tenure at the Goodman, the annual presentation of the yuletide tale has grown steadily in its physical production, but theater executives have succeeded in retaining the magic that was so evident back in 1978. One important key to maintaining the original spirit and at the same time keeping the show fresh is the idea of using different directors and cast members through the years to bring their perspectives to the show, particularly that of the boys and girls. “The young performers do affect the energy of the room. They are a very big part and essential to the entire tone of the whole production for everybody, particularly me because I become a child again at the end of the play,” Yando says. “So it’s like I join forces with them. It’s a sort of feast for the heart of the play, which is what I really care about. But because we’re dealing with ghosts and spirits and another worldly element, we have the chance for some magic to happen. The story remains the same, but the different stars that sparkle around it change and move a little bit.”
Scott probably knows that better than anyone, thanks to his long history with the show. “The interesting thing is I’ve directed the show a number of times and produced the show for years,” Scott says. “I’ve seen it hundreds of times and every time I see it I fall for it. I get scared, I laugh, I cry. I forget, even in the years when I’ve directed it, I forget how all the stuff is done, and I just get swept along by the story. And if it can work on somebody like me, then it can work on anybody.”
Indeed, A Christmas Carol continues to work on young and old alike, spreading its magic in a heartwarming story of charity and goodwill.
Note: Scottie Pippen, a Hall of Famer and a member of the Chicago Bulls six championship teams, will make a “walk-on” appearance (along with 7-year-old La’Ren Kimble) during the play’s December 14 production as part of Make-A-Wish Illinois. For more information about A Christmas Carol and tickets, go to www.goodmantheatre.org .