Seeing “A Christmas Carol” each year is like revisiting your favorite holiday classics with the family, but instead of a shaky VHS screening, you’re wowed by stage magic, and instead of “family,” you’re surrounded by a couple hundred other Chicagoans, all oohing and aahing like children. And with good reason. This show, directed by Henry Wishcamper and now in its 38th year, is ridiculously good.
Larry Yando’s Scrooge continues to be Dickensian perfection–while still adding nuances to the dialogue we could recite in our sleep. (How he manages to discover new moments in the text year after year is beyond me, but what a gift that he’s able to do so.) Many cast members returned this season alongside Yando; Joe Foust as Marley continues to think up new ways to haunt me in my sleep with that voice, those movements and that proclivity for appearing out of nowhere on the stage. Ron E. Rains is a Bob Cratchit you just want to hug and maybe buy a pint for, and his family (including Penelope Walker as his lovely and loving wife) are so pitch perfect that they, quite literally, made me cry. Lisa Gaye Dixon as the Ghost of Christmas Present is jubilant, sassy and manages to take Scrooge down a peg or two without losing an ounce of her likeability. And Travis A. Knight joins the cast as the Ghost of Christmas Past and takes the usually ethereal character in a new direction; instead of a wafting spirit, Knight is an avenging angel. (Nora asked me why the ghost was shirtless this year and I informed her that sometimes Mamas need Christmas presents, too.)
I’m not the only one reveling in the love for the show each year; some of its youngest performers have reprised their roles and have nothing but love for this company and production. 13-year-old Skye Sparks, who plays middle sister Belinda Cratchit, says that “coming back to the Goodman is like going to see your family during the holidays.” Third-grader Nathaniel Buescher has returned as Tiny Tim and reveals that his favorite scene in the show is the Cratchit family dinner, as “it’s important for people to realize that you can be happy with very little.” When pressed to dish on their favorite behind-the-scenes trivia, Sparks tells of how during that famous meal of holiday goose “[the actors] are trying not to gag on the prop food. The kids find it hard to keep a straight face.” Even sweeter still, Buescher confides that “Peter Cratchit [Phillip Cusic] and I created dances for each character.” Backstage cuteness and an audience full of warm n’ fuzzies? That’s a surefire combination for shaking off the “Bah! Humbugs” this holiday season.