***** Highly Recommended ****** The Goodman Theatre’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol” remains essentially the same from year to year, which their audiences seem to love. The Goodman lobby positively sparkles with festive decorations and an expanded holiday shopping area. Everywhere I looked, I saw families. Now in its 38th year, “A Christmas Carol” is once again practically perfect – fabulous cast, lavish sets and colorful period costumes. I give it 4 Spotlights.
Ebenezer Scrooge (Larry Yando) still hates Christmas. All of these happy people are getting on his last nerve – and people dare to ask him to give money for the poor! Another unwanted interruption, his nephew Fred (Anish Jethmalani), delivers a Christmas tree, a gift and an invitation to Chrismas dinner. To further aggravate him, Fred puts extra coal on the fire before he leaves. Finally, his clerk, Bob Cratchit (Ron E. Rains), asks for the day off, with pay!
At home, Scrooge thinks he’s seeing things when his door knocker turns from a lion into a scary face with glowing eyes. In his bedroom, he thinks he hears a noise, but shrugs it off and goes to bed. Suddenly, there’s a very loud and annoying blast of sound accompanied by flashing lights and then something appears in his bedroom which turns out to be his former partner, Jacob Marley (Joe Foust), who’s been dead for seven years. Marley warns Scrooge about the chains awaiting him after death and the three ghostly visits he can expect.
With another annoying boom, the bare chested Ghost of Christmas Past (Travis A. Knight) arrives in his bedroom wearing a sort of winged Mercury costume. The Ghost teaches him how to fly, then takes him back to a Christmas Eve during his lonely school days. Young Ebenezer (Aaron Lamm) is prepared to stay at the school over the holidays but his sister Fan (Paige Collins) arrives to take him home.
Unlike some versions of “A Christmas Carol”, this Ebenezer Scrooge (Kareem Bandealy) is serious about his apprenticeship with Mr. Fezziwig (Bret Tuomi). Mr. Fezziwig might be ready to celebrate Christmas, but young Scrooge works on his ledgers until Dick Wilkins (J. Salomé Martinez) confiscates them. Mrs. Fezziwig (Kim Schultz) makes him dance, but he doesn’t fully enjoy the evening until he meets Belle (Kristina Valada-Viars).
The Ghost of Christmas Present (Lisa Gaye Dixon) and a huge pile of gifts arrives in Scrooge’s bedroom. She takes great glee in scattering glitter everywhere as she takes Scrooge to see the joyful Christmas celebration at the Cratchit home – with a very scrawny bird as the main course at dinner. When Bob toasts Mr. Scrooge, Mrs. Cratchit (Penelope Walker) has a hissy fit. Tiny Tim (Nathaniel Buescher), clearly the center of this family, blesses everyone.
Finally, the very creepy, very tall Ghost of Christmas Future (J. Salomé Martinez or Kareen Bandealy), who never says a word but gets his message across very clearly, directs Scrooge to a death watch and a couple of funerals.
An odd thing happened at the performance I attended. After Jacob Marley’s exit, there was an odd flash of light offstage, then the scrim came down, a voice announced technical difficulties and the house lights came up. The unscheduled break lasted at least 5 minutes.
“A Christmas Carol” runs through December 27th in the Goodman’s Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago. Running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Fridays at 8:00; Saturdays at 2:00 and 8:00; Sundays at 2:00 and 6:30. There are additional performances on many dates, check with the box office for availability. Tickets range from $25-$102. Parking is available at the reduced rate of $23 in the Government Center Garage (with a validation) or you can take advantage of an online payment option: payment in advance is just $16.00. FYI (312) 443-3800 or www.goodmantheatre.org.