Goodman Theatre’s annual “A Christmas Carol,” now in its 42 appearance, continues to draw thousands of families downtown Chicago for Charles Dickens’ 19th century story about redemption.
Originally called A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas when published in 1843, the tale does feature four ghosts. At Goodman, the production also features Larry Yando making his 12th appearance as Ebenezer Scrooge, the Charles Dickens character whose name is synonymous with miser.
Instead of going crazy trying to get to even a quarter of the all terrific festivals, shows and events in and around Chicago this holiday season, make a plan. Figure out which show and happening you and/or your family want to see most, put them on the calendar, then list the next couple of things you would like to do.
Because there are so many events, they are divided into two parts with shows (because they need tickets) and special events (because they may be one-time, date-specific) in Part I which is a sampler and not a complete list.
“A Christmas Carol” was written 175 years ago by Charles Dickens—and its popularity has never wavered since, as it appears on stages all over the country. For the past forty years, Goodman Theatre has presented “A Christmas Carol” until going downtown Chicago to see it has become a tradition for many families.
Directed for several years by Henry Wishcamper, the play tells a basic story of the redemption of the leading character, Ebenezer Scrooge by giving him a glimpse at his past, present and what the future might hold if he doesn’t change..
Played by Larry Yando, Scrooge is the embodiment of what the name has come to represent since written by Dickens. He hates Christmas and only begrudgingly allows his underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit (Thomas J. Cox) to take off Christmas Day. He refuses to donate to good causes with comments about where the poor should go.
Scrooge’s selfish business partner, Jacob Marley who died years earlier returns as a ghost (Kareem Bandealy). Clanging chains wrought by miserly deeds, Marley warns Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits and that Scrooge must listen or be cursed and carry even heavier chains.
If you don’t want to be saying “Oops” this holiday season then 1. Don’t wait to get tickets to the shows you or your family want to see and 2. Do put those holiday events you want to go to on the calendar.
The good news is that there are numerous great holiday shows and happenings in the Chicago area. The problem news is that the many places to go, things to do and see make it hard to narrow down the choices to what is doable.
Tip: Be realistic when weighing what is manageable with kids, tired feet and meal breaks.
The following suggestions offer three Chicago area choices in each category – shows, shopping and spectacular lights and sights:
Where: In Goodman Theatre’s Albert Theatre at 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago
Why: Goodman’s production of Charles Dickens’ “The Christmas Carol” is a Chicago tradition that never gets old with new staging often added. But the show is also a talking point for families on what is important.
Where: Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Dr. (50 E. Congress Pkwy) at Michigan Ave.
Why: Going to the Joffrey’s “Nutcracker” is also a Chicago holiday tradition. It was beautifully re-imagined last year by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon as a visit by Marie and her mother to the 1893 World’s Fair. The mysterious Great Impresario turns the visit into an adventure. And it is all set to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music.
Where: Lookingglass theatre is in the Chicago Water Works at 821 N Michigan Ave, Chicago.
Why: Lookingglass productions are highly innovative, well acted and engrossing. This tale based on a Hans Christian Andersen story is being staged as an exciting spectable by ttalented, creative Mary Zimmerman.
Where: On line and at the museum, front entrance at 111 S. Michigan Ave. and the Modern Wing entrance at 159 E. Monroe St.
Why: Gift shop entrances do not need admission fees or tickets. The shops carry one-of-a kind gifts that won’t bust the budget. The Modern Wing has good glass items and the main gift shop has excellent jewelry and ties. Both shops have Frank Lloyd Wright items and gifts inspired by other artists. Also visitors like to take holiday photos with the wreathed lions in front.
Where: In Lincoln Park at 2001 N. Clark St., Chicago
Why: See the animals while strolling among 2,5 million lights thanks to Com Ed and Invesco. Also visit Santa, watch ice carving, sip warm spiced wine, snack on holiday treats and watch a 3D light show.
Why: the Garden’s event is called Wonderland Express but before going into the building that has trains zipping through Chicago landmarks, see trees and walkways lit by thouands of lights and visit the greenhouses’ topiaries and poinsettias. Then don’t worry about the “snow” falling on shoulders inside the exhibit building. It’s all about fun and winter wonders.
Even if you have seen Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” before at Goodman Theatre, the current production is a show not to be missed. It has aged like fine wine.
On its 40th anniversary, the Goodman production was perfect from Todd Rosenthal’s set, Keith Parkham’s lighting and Heidi Sue McMath’s costume design to appropriately scary, tear jerking and joyous scenes played by many “Christmas Carol” regulars.
Right from the start, you feel the holiday spirit while walking into the lobby and hearing carolers serenading from the balcony (at scattered performances).
The singers were terrific but opening night was even more special as it was filled with an audience that appreciated each scene, ghostly special effects and actors’ monologues with enthusiastic applause.
In his 10th year as Scrooge, Larry Yando was at his bah humbug best in the first third of the play and delightfully nutty with joy as a reformed Scrooge in the last third. In between you felt his gradual character change.
Molly Brennan, the Actors Gymnasium’s director of physical theater, was fun to watch as she managed her flying apparatus as Christmas Past with acrobatic ease. She guided Scrooge with empathy to his school yard and past employment at Mr. Fezziwig’s establishment.
In the Fezziwig scenes Kareem Bandealy, as Scrooge as a Young Man, believably battled with his character’s interest in money, choosing it rather than love.
Lisa Gaye Dixon once again portrayed Christmas Present with an appreciation of holiday abundance.
It was balanced with dart like precision when Dixon threw Scrooge’s bad attitude towards holiday giving back in his now drooping face.
Breon Arzeli was imposing as the deathly, towering figure of Christmas Future. Of course, by this time Scrooge is ready to do anything to make amends for his anti-humanity outlook.
He now understands what the Ghost of Jacob Marley, perfectly portrayed again by Joe Foust, said when admonishing him that humanity was his business, not the business of money changing.
He now cares about his clerk, Bob Cratchit, played with humor and tenderness by Ron E. Rains, and for Tiny Tim, portrayed by a girl for the first time here, fourth-grader Paris Strickland.
On another note, the live on stage music plus the singing and dancing bits really added to the show’s uplifting aura.
Adapted by Tom Creamer and directed by Henry Wishcamper, Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” is not just for youngsters. It really is a show for the entire family.
On opening night, the joy didn’t end with the first curtain call. Artistic Director Robert Falls, walked out, mike in hand, to bring on stage more than 40 past participants in Goodman’s “A Christmas Carol.”
By the way, some attendees tend to collect play programs. However, this edition of Goodman’s “On Stage” should be kept even if not a collector. It contains, history and important notes.
DETAILS: “A Christmas Carol” is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn St, Chicago, through Dec. 31, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.
For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 and visit Goodman Theatre.
If you’ve lived in the Chicago area more than a year or have visited it during the holidays in past years, some shows and events spring quickly to mind when talking about traditional doings. Others are less likely to make it to the calendar simply because they’re not necessarily headliners in a city rich in good theater, music, dance and art.
The signs of the season are there. Macy’s windows have come alive with moving characters, holiday market tents are going up in Daley Plaza, a giant evergreen is hoisted in Millennium Park and people are wondering if we should pray for cold to have good ice in the park or warm weather for good shopping.
No matter what the weather holds, here are a few of the jolly, holly ways to celebrate the season in the Chicago area.