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Goodman's 'Christmas Carol' Transforms Darkness To Light

Because this show takes such an unflinching look at things we fear, and lets the power of love transcend them, it achieves heights that are all the more joyous.

 

The Goodman Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol" does not shy away from the dark, the frightening, and all those things we prefer not to think about.

Indeed, this production uses stage wizardry to solidly confront us with many of the biggest fear factors in human life--poverty, sickness, loss, regrets and death. 

Because of that, Ebenezer Scrooge's gradual emergence from the darkness into the light takes on a magnificent feeling of triumph. It's a fully cathartic experience. 

This is the show's 35th year, and I've been seeing it, on a pretty regular basis, for about 13 years. Every time, it pulls me into its Dickensian world with the stellar quality of its acting, directing that brings out nuances of humor and grimness, and fine production values--richly costumed party scenes, flying ghosts, enduring Elizabethan carols, an otherworldly sky-- that make my eyes open wider with wonder. And every year my family and I emerge on an emotional high, imbued with the Christmas spirit as we spill out onto Dearborn Street with the rest of the merry crowd. 

Of course, the actor playing Scrooge carries the dramatic weight of the show, and I just wanted to hug Larry Yando's Scrooge--at the end, anyway. His multi-layered portrayal of the character is rich with human imperfections and vanities. He lets us see the gradual transformation of the curmudgeon into a man who can let a newly empathetic soul emerge.

But first, he establishes the dark side. When townspeople solicit charitable donations for the poor as Christmas approaches, Yando hauls out the full arsenal of irascibility. 

"Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?"

As the ghosts come calling and shake Scrooge out of his habitual unforgiveness, Yando's character grows wistful, reflective and gradually compassionate. 

One of the delights of this production is its humor--from Yando's dead-panned one liners to Ron Rains' playfulness as Bob Cratchit horsing around with his kids.

And as the show gets to Christmas morning, Yando cranks up the emotional payoff. I was laughing while I had tears rolling down my cheeks, and I don't think I was the only one in the audience.

We're treated to uniformly strong performances across the entire cast, from the four ghosts to the Cratchit family, Fezziwig's crew, nephew Fred and his friends and the lively street vendors of London. 

Steve Scott's direction has drawn them all out and has them working together as a top-notch ensemble, gently making Dickens' points about the crushing weight faced by both the poor and the hard-hearted--and the unexpected ways love and compassion can transform them.

This story has endured from the century before last for a reason. It's about summoning up all your courage to choose love instead of fear. That speaks right to the heart of Christmas. 

"A Christmas Carol" runs through Dec. 29 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. See more information.  Shows run Tuesdays through Sundays except Dec. 17 and  25. Ticket prices are $25-$82. On Dec. 14, Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen appears in a walk-on role with a young Make-a-Wish recipient in a benefit performance.

Steven Bohne December 06, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Great show but look for bargain seating as it is hundreds of dollars for a family of 4 on an off night (Tuesday). A Saturday night show main floor seat is almost $100 a seat!
Pam DeFiglio (Editor) December 06, 2012 at 03:26 PM
That is true, Steve. In the past I have occasionally been able to get discounted tickets at hottix.org. That's run by the League of Chicago Theatres, a non-profit, and they have discounted tickets to most Chicago shows except the really hot sellers. Also, here's a tip for next year: the shows right before and after Christmas are cheaper, like $25 or $35. I sometimes start scanning the Goodman's website in August. Yes, it seems a little crazy to be planning Christmas in August, but hey, you do what you can. One more tip: it can't hurt to google search terms like "Goodman coupon code" to see what comes up.
Pam DeFiglio (Editor) December 06, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Oops, I meant to say the shows right before and after THANKSGIVING are cheaper. The ones right around Christmas are more expensive. Your chance of getting a discount are better now, I think.
Brian L. December 06, 2012 at 03:37 PM
As a child my family used to go every year and enjoy dinner at the Berghoff on the same trip. It was something my sister and I looked forward to every year and I hope to be able to start that tradition with my son as well. The cost is a problem however and I haven't been to the Berghoff since it reopened...hopefully still just as good.
Pat Lyon December 08, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Here's another great show, now in it's 8th season: "The Nutcracker" at the House Theatre. It's an adaptation of the traditional story and is extremely well done, poignant, and entertaining for all ages. http://thehousetheatre.com/seasons/eight/shows/the-nutcracker--2
Pam DeFiglio (Editor) December 08, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Yes, I saw the House Theatre's "Nutcracker" two years ago and really enjoyed it. It's not a ballet or dance "Nutcracker." It starts with the Nutcracker story and expands. It tugs at your heartstrings, too.
Lin December 16, 2012 at 01:47 PM
We LOVE this and never miss it...but I have to say that the show this year is the VERY BEST EVER. The actors are always wonderful, but this year they are just inspired, really. Every single scene Scrooge is in in perfect. Bob Cratchit is perfect. This is the best show around, and the perfect message to share with your family and loved ones at Christmas. GO SEE THIS SHOW!

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