‘A Christmas Carol’: The Story That Cheers Us All

The Goodman Theatre’s production of the classic holiday story is a spectacular theatrical event.
‘A Christmas Carol’: The Story That Cheers Us All
(Sitting L–R) The family of Bob Cratchits: Bob (Thomas J. Cox), Tiny Tim (Christian Lucas), Peter (Leighton Tantillo), Gregory (Amir Henderson), and Mrs. Cratchit (Susaan Jamshidi). (Standing) The Ghost of Christmas Present (Bethany Thomas), in “A Christmas Carol.” (Liz Lauren)
12/1/2023
Updated:
12/1/2023
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CHICAGO—It’s that season when every theater tries to put on a show in celebration of the most wonderful time of the year.  But of all the entertainments, the almost epic, and the best production to herald the true meaning of Christmas is that of the Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol.”

Now in its 46th year, the Goodman’s production of the Charles Dickens’s novella was adapted by Tom Creamer into a spectacular theatrical event. Those who have seen the Christmas classic continue to come back year after year because the Goodman’s presentation never gets stale.

Jacob Marley (Kareem Bandealy, L) and Ebenezer Scrooge (Larry Yando), in “A Christmas Carol.” (Liz Lauren)
Jacob Marley (Kareem Bandealy, L) and Ebenezer Scrooge (Larry Yando), in “A Christmas Carol.” (Liz Lauren)

The show retells Dickens’s moving tale of redemption, and offers an emotionally profound and poignant theme that captures the soul and spirit of Christmas. Yet each year, the Goodman presents a fresh take on the classic and revises it with all the lush, dazzling care that the Goodman can muster.

Dickens’s masterpiece, which he wrote in a little over a month, starts off a bit on the scary side. After all, Dickens’s vision when writing it was to fashion a ghost story that he hoped would scare people out of their wits and frighten them into changing their lives. It begins with a stingy Ebenezer Scrooge who won’t allow his clerk enough coal to heat his office, then we see his harsh refusal to contribute to a charity, and finally he refuses his nephew’s invitation for Christmas dinner with a “Bah! Humbug”!

Once the image of the tightwad has been set, the forces of the universe come into play to offer him a way to transform his life and a chance at salvation. Three ghosts visit him and take him on a trip into his past, his present, and his future—all of which open his mind and his heart and motivate him to turn his life around for the good so as to save his soul.

Ebenezer Scrooge (Larry Yando), in “A Christmas Carol.” (Liz Lauren)
Ebenezer Scrooge (Larry Yando), in “A Christmas Carol.” (Liz Lauren)
Whether it’s because we’re living in a harsher, darker world than that of yesteryear or because few uplifting shows exist, it’s clear that director Jessica Thebus has staged an enthralling drama that makes this year’s version of “A Christmas Carol” more heartfelt and meaningful than ever.

Great Cast

Another reason that this year’s production is so engaging is due to Larry Yando’s portrayal of Scrooge. Although this is Mr. Yando’s 16th year as the curmudgeon, he brings an immediacy, an extraordinary poignancy, and a thoughtfulness to the role that is riveting. It’s amazing to see Mr. Yando infuse new life into the character year after year.  Indeed, this great actor is the reason Scrooge isn’t portrayed as a caricature, but as a real human being struggling, as we all do, to come to grips with his humanity. Mr. Yando has an awesome ability to convey a perceptive intensity and insight into Scrooge that brings the fictional character to life.

In addition, other performances enhance the production. These include Lucky Stiff who returns to once again portray the charming, playful Ghost of Christmas Past; Bethany Thomas whose deep voice resonates as the Ghost of Christmas Present; and Daniel José Molina, who, flashing a black cape, is terrifying as the Ghost of Christmas Future.

Mr. Fezziwig (Robert Schleifer, front center) with the ensemble cast, in “A Christmas Carol.” (Liz Lauren)
Mr. Fezziwig (Robert Schleifer, front center) with the ensemble cast, in “A Christmas Carol.” (Liz Lauren)

Moreover, Robert Schleifer is a hoot as Scrooge’s fun-loving, former employer, Mr. Fezziwig, and Penelope Walker is a delight as Mrs. Fezziwig. Amira Danan delivers a nice turn as Belle, young Scrooge’s fiancée, and Kareem Bandealy does a fine job portraying the young Marley. Not to be forgotten is Christian Lucas, who is adorable as Tiny Tim.

In addition to the performances, there’s the stunning staging of Victorian sets by Todd Rosenthal; the lavish, colorful period costumes by Heidi Sue McMath; the evocative lighting by Keith Parham; the superb sound design by Richard Woodbury; and the melodious original music by Andrew Hansen, expertly directed by Malcolm Ruhl.

This classic production offers an old-fashioned warmth and joy that’s rarely seen on theatrical stages. At show’s end, when Tiny Tim says, “May God Bless us, everyone” and the ensemble sings a medley of Christmas carols, one could see that the some of the adults in the audience had tears in their eyes, and the kids, who had never seen the show before, were squealing with delight.

For those who long for the days when kindness, generosity, and happiness were staples of the holiday season, this is a show that will touch one’s mind, heart, and spirit.  If you can see only one Christmas extravaganza this year, make it this production of “A Christmas Carol.”

‘A Christmas Carol’ Goodman Theatre 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago Tickets: 312-443-3800 or GoodmanTheatre.org Runs: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission) Closes: Dec. 31, 2023
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As an arts writer and movie/theater/opera critic, Betty Mohr has been published in the Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Australian, The Dramatist, the SouthtownStar, the Post Tribune, The Herald News, The Globe and Mail in Toronto, and other publications.