(Editor's note: The following review is of the 2014 production.)
This may sound a bit more like a bah, humbug than it's meant, but the best bits in The Second City's Christmas collab with the Goodman are those that step away from the attempt at parodying A Christmas Carol. This isn't to say it's not a good deal of fun seeing the estimable and game Francis Guinan as Scrooge playing with Second City jokers like Beth Melewski and Twist Your Dickens co-author Peter Gwinn.
But the show's sharpest scenes are those that skewer other traditional holiday fare. They include a pointed rewrite of the ending of A Charlie Brown Christmas and a solid quick hit that has Santa finding a home for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's Misfit Toys. A bit repeating the same all-American Christmas morning scene with details changed to reflect different decades goes over nicely as well, and Gwinn does a solid Jimmy Stewart in a series of cameos as a frantic George Bailey.
But Gwinn and co-author Bobby Mort's observations on the realities of Dickensian life, as opposed to the sentimental version on display next door, are nicely observed. ("I bet Larry Yando doesn't have to put up with this," Guinan gets to mutter.) Tiny Tim (Sayjal Joshi) hosts a slumber party, with all of his friends enduring a different debilitating condition; at another point, a group of Dickens's orphans go on strike to protest their mistreatment.
Some Second City conventions have been softened a bit for the Goodman audience. (Translation: Fear not, improv-averse, the performers will occasionally ask for a suggestion from the audience but you're in no danger of being pulled onstage.) And the writers and director Matt Hovde do a fine job balancing silliness and sentiment, with Guinan grounding the proceedings. It's a fairly satisfying twist on the traditional tale.
The Second City and Goodman Theatre. By Peter Gwinn & Bobby Mort. Directed by Matt Hovde. With Frank Caeti, Francis Guinan, Gwinn, Sayjal Joshi, Beth Melewski, Robyn Scott, Tim Stoltenberg. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission.