Spectacular visually, stunning set, infallible acting. There – that’s my review of Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol.”
You cannot be surprised. It is, after all, Goodman’s 40th anniversary of producing “A Christmas Carol.” After 10 directors, eight Scrooges and 1.5 million audience members, they know how to get things right. And this production is an enchanting dazzler.
This year, there are a few magnificent twists. Tiny Tim is played by a very adorable and quite capable young lady named Paris Strickland. And, don’t worry, you won’t be distracted by knowing that. The part of nephew Fred is now niece Frieda, a change that works extremely well thanks to Ali Burch’s sincere and touching delivery. And, for those of us who hail from Crystal Lake, the role of Mrs. Cratchit is lovingly portrayed by a luminous Michele Vazquez, who lives in Crystal Lake. Her toast to Scrooge is particularly superb vocally and physically.
Best of all, Larry Yando is back for his 10th year as Ebenezer Scrooge. He fascinates as his story of redemption evolves; he undeniably is a rich virtuoso of acting. Just watch his wistful face as he first views Tiny Tim, the melancholy sadness watching Belle return his ring or how he vocally begs his niece’s forgiveness. Yando’s range of emotions are incredible, from cranky to odious to exuberant joy.
The three spirits are quite delicious. Molly Brennan’s Ghost of Christmas Past twinkles and shines as she acrobatically and balletically flies through the air. Lisa Gaye Dixon is a luxurious, commanding bejeweled golden Ghost of Christmas Present; her speeches are frequently rewarded with applause. And Breon Arzeil is the tall, foreboding, shrouded specter of Christmas Yet to Come.
But Joe Foust’s Marley is the most frightening of all, both coming and going; he also appears later as the creepy rag and bone man Old Joe. And there are other outstanding performances. Ron E. Rains’ Bob Cratchit is touchingly patient and spirited; Rains and Yando have incredible chemistry. Jonah D. Winston’s handsome Fezziwig is buoyant, boisterous and bold. Thankfully, he is not the usual chubby “Master of the House” caricature. Narrator Kareem Bandealy provides both guidance and comic relief. Listen closely to his “Marley was dead ... to begin with ...”
In fact, the entire diverse ensemble of 25 should be lauded. Regretfully, there is not enough space to list these flawless skilled actors and musicians by name. They’re all gorgeously costumed in the vibrant Dickensian manner by designer Heidi Sue McMath, and they get to tread the resplendent storybook set designed by Todd Rosenthal.
Henry Wishcamper’s direction (and it’s his fifth year back) is not the traditionally dark and serious version of “A Christmas Carol.” Tom Creamer’s adaptation is more light-hearted and more tongue-in-cheek than usual productions. But, never fear, it is not without its touching moments, and the dialogue still is very familiar and welcome.
Yet, I do have two minor bah humbugs: it seems, at times, Yando plays for laughs – unexpected for Scrooge. And the Cratchits never appear to be the long-suffering, poor characters Dickens envisioned in his socioeconomic story of 1843. The size of the goose and the pawning of silver candlesticks does little to garner much sympathy or understanding of their impoverished situation.
There aren’t enough superlatives to lavish on this magnificent production. I only can urge you to experience this beloved, feel-good classic for yourself. It’s family friendly and commendably, incandescently seasonal.
• Regina Belt-Daniels is an actress and director who began her career onstage in 1985 at the Woodstock Opera House. Formerly serving on the Raue Center for the Arts Board, she also is a lifetime member of TownSquare Players and a retired District 47 teacher.
“A CHRISTMAS CAROL”
WHEN: Through Dec. 31
WHERE: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago
COST & INFO: The production runtime is 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission. A sensory friendly performance is scheduled Dec. 30. Tickets range from $25 to $112. Tickets and information: www.goodmantheatre.org or 312-443-3800.