It’s been a long, difficult two years since the Goodman Theatre last presented its annual stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol and, like all of us, the show has changed in that time. Most notably, the production has a new director, Jessica Thebus, who directed the audio version released in 2020. The show remains recognizable, down to favorite acting choices by longtime Scrooge actor Larry Yando, but Thebus’ direction gently reshapes the familiar play to create something genuinely fresh and deeply resonant.
One holdover from the show’s conversion to an audio format is the addition of more narration. This is a welcome change, as it allows for further development of the show’s atmosphere and prevents the awkwardness of the narrator disappearing for the majority of the play as they have done in years past. The four spirits who visit Scrooge have all been revamped to varying degrees: Jacob Marley is much more heavily burdened by the weight of his chains, and the Ghost of Christmas Future takes on an eerie avian element. Even more noticeably changed, however, are the Ghost of Christmas Past and Ghost of Christmas Present. The Ghost of Christmas Past moves away from the colorful circus interpretation of previous years and towards something more ethereal and heavenly. Actor Lucky Stiff brings as much sparkle to the character as their costume (designed by Heidi Sue McMath) brings to the stageーand that’s a lot of sparkle. The Ghost of Christmas Present, played with charm and high energy by Bethany Thomas, arrives bedecked in evergreens, a tribute to Celtic and Druidic imagery that is delightfully decadent.
Diversity in casting has been important to this production since I’ve been reviewing it, and this year the inclusivity is stronger than ever. The cast is racially diverse, and even more women grace the stage than in years past. Most notably, the character of Mr. Fezziwig, Scrooge’s former mentor, is recast as Mrs. Maud Fezziwig, but his wife, Mrs. Alice Fezziwig, remains female. The brief but utterly charming interactions between Cindy Gold and Penelope Walker as the two Mrs. Fezziwigs are a heartwarming highlight of the production.
Larry Yando is, as always, a triumph as Scrooge. Every moment of Scrooge’s transformation, from his early misanthropy and viciousness to his giddiness and generosity in the final scenes is fully embodied and utterly believable. Other cast highlights include Kareem Bandealy, who is deeply unsettling as Jacob Marley; Dee Dee Batteast, who is charismatic and lovable as Scrooge’s niece Frida; and Andrew White, who elevates the Narrator from a mere dispenser of information to a compelling character in his own right.
Todd Rosenthal’s sets remain a visual feast. A few scenes have been wisely pared down, including my least favorite from the Christmas Future section, when Scrooge’s belongings are sold to a questionable shopkeeper. Even the Ignorance and Want, represented by two children brought forth by the Ghost of Christmas Present, whose scene is typically another low point in the show, have somehow become more engaging in Thebus’ production.
Going to the theatre is different than it once was. To enjoy A Christmas Carol this year, you’ll need to don a mask and provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test at the door. But the best parts of theatreーthe brilliant acting, the gorgeous design work, the overall feeling of magicーnot only remain, but shine brighter than ever. Jessica Thebus has breathed new life into a beloved production, and it is absolutely wonderful to behold.
Location: The Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL 60601
Dates: November 29-December 31, 2021
Tickets: $25-$141. Available at GoodmanTheatre.org/Carol or by phone at 312.443.3800. For full safety protocols, visit GoodmanTheatre.org/Protocols. For accessibility, including touch tour and closed caption performances, visit GoodmanTheatre.org/Access.
All photos by Liz Lauren.