Review A CHRISTMAS CAROL: Dickens Haunts the Goodman!

Goodman Theatre presents

At Goodman’s Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn
Based on the novella by Charles Dickens
Adapted by Tom Creamer
Directed by William Brown
Thru December 31st
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Two hours and fifteen minutes with a fifteen minute intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

It’s Christmas Eve.  You are home alone flipping through a childhood photo album.  On your computer, your facebook page fills up with pictures of parties in progress.  You had declined those invitations because of end-of-the-year stuff at work.  You can’t imagine next year being any different but at least you have a well-paid job.  You just didn’t realize how miserable you were until you thought about it.  BEWARE: You may be on the Scrooge-track!  Goodman Theatre presents A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  One hundred and sixty plus years ago, Charles Dickens penned a story about a man’s struggle to re-connect to life.  This timeless holiday classic has layers of relevant themes for 2010.  A work-aholic hates Christmas.  A working class family blows the wad on a good dinner.  Parents worry about medical costs for a sick kid.  A couple does the obligatory party invitation because the guy ‘is family.’   All these worlds  collide when four ghosts force a man to contemplate his reclamation.  It’s a pause, rewind, play, fast-forward on a well-worn tale of redemption.  Goodman’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a severely dramatic spectacle with intermittent bursts of humor, hope and heart. 

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Under the direction of William Brown, the talented cast wondrously transforms the Dickens page to stage.  Although the show haunts big with apparitional entrances of entertainment, the smaller liberalities are larger emotional entanglements.   Susan Shunk (x-mas past) grabs Scrooge’s hand with sincere kindness.  John Lister (Fezziwig) affectionately chokes up during a toast.  Christine Sherrill (Mrs. Cratchit) heart-wrenchingly cradles a toy.  The focus of the miser make-over, John Judd (Scrooge) is magnificent.  Looking like the love child of George C. Scott and Sting, Judd softens his harshness with genuine awkward amicability.  Judd is hilarious with extreme responses of naughty and nice.  He and Penelope Walker (x-mas present) argue with all-to-relatable political passionate conviction.   Walker sprinkles the joy with sparkly dust and immense zest.   Ron Rains (Cratchit) has scene stealing comedic moments with a hat and scarf.   Tiffany Scott (Belle) and Eric Parks (Young Scrooge) are the charming doomed lovers.  Before she tenderly but firmly de-engages Scrooge, Scott leads the merriment in an energetic line dance – Victorian style.  Parks is delightful until he is disturbing, shifting from bumbling crush to dismissive neglecter.   The entire cast is jocular familiarity with surprising depths of humanity. 

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The characters come to life on an imaginative Dickens’ wonderland.  If you’ve ever wanted to break open a holiday Dickens Village to see the inside, Todd Rosenthal has saved your collection.  Rosenthall uses multi-dimensional dioramas for an intriguing glimpse at the 1840’s homes of the rich and poor.  Costume designer Heidi Sue McMath dresses up the scene with the vintage elegance of silk skirts, top hats, and overcoats.  Every December, the spirit of Charles Dickens haunts with a timeless message of kindness to the unfortunate, poor or rich.  The fifth apparition of Goodman’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL is never seen but felt throughout.   With spooky Dickens perfection, Director William Brown might require an exorcism to give up that ghost. 
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”    – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Production photos courtesy of Liz Lauren.

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