A Christmas Carol at Goodman Theatre | Stage review
Tue Nov 8 2011
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Given the 34-year lifespan of this iconic production, the question, at this point, is not whether the show’s darling status is deserved. There are reasons this holiday beast hasn’t become a burden.
The question, rather, is what about this top-notch adaptation has earned it such lofty status? This first-time audience member ponders the question, then notes the high points of director Steve Scott's production: Todd Rosenthal’s transformative sets (albeit suspiciously squeaky-clean for Industrial Revolution–era England); captivating live music (French horn!); and Larry Yando’s commanding Ebenezer Scrooge. His lead performance provides all the pained frustrations and warm fuzzies that come standard with this epic, broken-man-turned-nice-guy redemption story.
The show also shares all of the elements of classic Disney films, those flicks that have similarly survived every trend-wave and digital innovation. Compelling adaptation of a classic tale? Check. A few laughs for the adults? Yep. Overarching lesson? Uh-huh. Memorable villain? Indeed. Which begs another question: Have you ever noticed that the very best in kid entertainment—the timeless stuff such as Sleeping Beauty, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, E.T., even the Harry Potter series—is a bit, well, twisted?
With parenthood comes a natural urge to protect. Intentionally scaring your children seems a bit cruel, doesn’t it? And in the fluorescent sugar-rush of Pokemon and SpongeBob, isn’t there a perception that little kids can’t deal with a bit of subtle, slow-moving wickedness? But think about it: Cruella de Ville is unabashed in her desire to kill puppies. Willy Wonka hates children. Don’t get me started on Charlotte’s Web. And yet, we loved this stuff. Our parents loved it. And our kids, and their kids, will absolutely love it.
And so merry musical numbers, too-cute Tiny Tim (Roni Akurati) and a jovial, glitter-tossing Ghost of Christmas Present (Penelope Walker) aside, the best moments of this show are the dark ones. When the Ghost of Jacob Marley’s (Nathan Hosner) hand reaches out and above Scrooge’s bed, in his Haunted Mansion–style bedroom, and crashes down upon him as if in a horror film, kids erupt in shrieks—and immediate, uncontrollable giggles. Eyeballs bulge from tiny faces at the downright scary, mournful Marley in chains, and at the Grim Reaper–esque Ghost of Christmas Future.
Even the funniest moments are overcast, such as the Charwoman’s (Ora Jones) monologue as she brags to her friends about stealing Scrooge’s nightshirt off of his dead body, and Scrooge’s expression as he watches his nephew Fred merrily rip him apart during a party game. These are the moments that elicit the most guffaws from audience members, both young and old. Top that with a merry, reformed Scrooge and a “God bless us, everyone!” sparkly, feel-good bow at the show’s finale and you have a family-friendly winner. The two-hour running time is just right, too.
If you have a scaredy kitten on your hands, a brief chat about the dark components ahead of time is recommended. Otherwise, let them have a bit of fun with it.
Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol runs through December 31 at the Goodman Theatre.