True classics never get old. Case in point: this year’s production of “A Christmas Carol” at the Goodman Theatre. Charles Dickens wrote the novel upon which Tom Creamer’s current adaptation is based in 1843 — 170 years ago. The Goodman Theatre first presented “A Christmas Carol” in 1978 — 35 years ago. But each year’s production has been a new baby, related to its older siblings, but with changes in sets, script and cast. And this year Henry Wishcamper becomes the 10th director to put a fresh spin on the staging.
Even more important than these production changes are the changes in the audience. Every year “A Christmas Carol” welcomes a new generation of theatergoers, children who discover the magic of live theater at the Goodman. It would be hard to imagine a better introduction. Thankfully, the Goodman does not dumb down “A Christmas Carol”: the language is rich, the acting nuanced and the staging first class. Adults are entertained and children engaged.
The play is also a well-deserved holiday bonus for some of Chicago’s top actors. Larry Yando’s portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge is as moving as was his Roy Cohn in Angels in America, his Shakespearean characters or any other part he has breathed live into with his crisp inflections. This is his sixth season as Scrooge, and as laudable as it is for Goodman to change things up, let’s hope Yando keeps on in the role forever.
Elizabeth Ledo brings equivalent layers of experience to her portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Past, taking Scrooge on an aerial tour of his warped psyche. Ron Rains and Penelope Walker as clerk Bob Cratchit and wife, with young actors Brynden Cleveland, Mia Moore, Francesca Mereu, Haley Bolithon and Matthew George Abraham (as Tiny Tim) make for a diverse Cratchit family, propelling the story into the 21st century.
The large ensemble, many in multiple roles, includes Atra Asdou, Sarah Chalcroft, Joe Foust, José Antonio García, Anish Jethmalani, Michael Aaron Lindner, Larry Neumann Jr., Steven Pringle, Tania Richard, Kim Schultz and A.C. Smith, with Matthew R. Dwyer and Robert Hope well cast as younger Scrooges. Capable musician/actors Justin Amolsch, Greg Hirte, Malcolm Ruhl and Andrew Coil make the music part of the action.
Director Wishcamper does a fine job of highlighting the social issues that inform Dickens’ work. “A Christmas Carol” in particular evolved from Dickens’ own life. When Dickens was 12, his father, a clerk who had trouble supporting his family, was sent to debtors’ prison, and Dickens was forced to leave school and work at a boot blacking factory. The author’s plight and the struggle of the Cratchits remain relevant in our economically splintered society.
As always at the Goodman, the sets (these designed by Todd Rosenthal) are first rate. Scrooge’s skewed bedchamber looks as if it grew out of his mind. A simple starlit background (lighting design by Robert Christen) is equally effective.
Since the Goodman’s first production of “A Christmas Carol,” some 1.2 million theatergoers have attended a performance. May the tradition continue.
A Christmas Carol
Through Dec. 28, 2013
170 N. Dearborn, Chicago
Tickets $25 – $83 at Goodman Theatre or (312) 443-3820
Photos: Liz Lauren