Every December, yuletide traditions are routinely shelved for newer, fresher models. Christmas caroling, once widely popular, is scarce these days. Santa’s cookies, once a staple, have transitioned into low-fat crackers and soy yogurt for the reindeer. Even the word “Christmas” has become a dirty word to some, replaced with a generic “happy holidays.”
In this changing world, why do we need A Christmas Carol? Why put on a dated show set in the 1800s when the Theatre could simply tweet “Bless evrybdy #TnyTim”?
The Goodman answers, in resounding terms.
Its A Christmas Carol connects with a 21st century audience first by taking aim at clichés associated with the show. Skewed angles gave Scrooge’s bedroom an edgy creepiness, and the set piece – newly designed this year by Todd Rosenthal – offers the ghost of Jacob Marley numerous secret ways to enter. A multiracial cast updates the Victorian setting. Even the schoolmaster who admonishes Boy Scrooge in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”
The production isn’t afraid to be frightening. The appearance of the hell-bound ghost of Jacob Marley (even the actor has an eerie name: Joe Foust) worries children in the audience; and the Ghost of Christmas Future, a specter in the style of the Grim Reaper, would fit just as well into a horror flick.
While the production is innovative and refreshing, it remains remarkably true to the source material. The costumes, by Heidi Sue McMath, are historically spot-on – fashion is Victorian for Christmas Present, but shifts to reflect the Georgian period for Christmas past. The Christmas jigs and the live band onstage take viewers back to a simpler, more romantic time. Even Mrs. Cratchett’s Christmas pudding, described by Dickens as “a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy,” is just as mouth-watering onstage.
With an immensely talented cast (starring gifted actor Larry Yando as the Humbug Man), the audience is instantly won over. But the real magic starts as Scrooge begins to change, and one small charity leads to another. When the manly Ghost of Christmas Present (A.C. Smith), starts to toss around gold glitter without reservation, it makes one’s own fear of seeming childish seem unfounded.
Ebenezer Scrooge’s Christmas was a discovery that happiness cannot be bought with money, thrift, or business sense.This message has been retold through the centuries, and is especially important as we hear of Christmas “fading” in the 21st century.
After, A Christmas Carol, you want to say no. Exiting the Goodman, you take in the same Chicago that you saw while entering: illuminated garlands, Salvation Army bell-ringers, and larger-than-life bugles on State Street. But somehow they seem brighter and more wonderful that when you entered. Though some may argue we live in a post-Christmas society, A Christmas Carol reaffirms that there are Christmas underpinnings – charity and true joy – that can never be outdated.