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Chicago by John Olson

A Christmas Carol
Goodman Theatre

A Christmas Carol
John Judd and Anish Jethmalani
Though the Chicago theater scene is filled with Christmas staples each holiday season, the Goodman's A Christmas Carol is the granddaddy of them all. This year's remounting is the 33rd production of the Dickens classic at the Goodman, 22 of them using the adaptation by their former dramaturg Tom Creamer. Director William Brown and the entire creative team from last year (and many previous years as well, I'll guess) are all back as well, bringing us the superb production values of Todd Rosenthal's set with its bi-level office and home for Scrooge, the special effect-laden lighting by Robert Christen and Heidi Sue McMath's stunning period costumes.

The major change, and it's a big one, is in the casting of John Judd as Scrooge, replacing Larry Yando who's out in Washington DC with the Goodman's Candide. Judd's take on the role is less idiosyncratic and less broadly comic than Yando's. Judd's Scrooge is rather believable, in fact. As the story opens, he shows the miser to be quite resolute in his skinflinty ways—so sure of himself that perhaps he doesn't need to over-communicate his philosophies regarding social welfare and fiscal austerity. He's not the "boo-hiss" villain to which we're more accustomed, and his transformation to a kind and generous man is less of a leap, but since we don't initially hate him so much, perhaps we're happier to see him redeemed.

The other significant casting change from last year's production (reviewed here) is in the portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Past by a woman (Susan Shunk). Dressed in a vest and tights, she has a certain Peter Pan quality and energy (and she does fly) that is a fun departure from other takes on the character. Returning as the Ghost of Christmas Present is Penelope Walker, delightfully affable in her bright red hoop dress. Ron Rains also repeats his alternately comic and brave Bob Cratchit. Anish Jethmalani is again the zombie Jacob Marley, introduced to us through some nifty special effects.

The Goodman's A Christmas Carol is a great showcase for the theater artists of all disciplines—and a relatively rare opportunity in the Chicago non-profit theater scene for production designers to fully show their stuff. Of course the classic story works as well as ever—though maybe in the current economic climate its resonance has edged closer to Dickens' social commentary and farther away from fable.

A Christmas Carol runs through December 31, 2010, in the Goodman's Albert Theater. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased at www.GoodmanTheatre.org, by phone at 312-443-3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn).


Photo: Liz Lauren

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-- John Olson



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