Josh Flanders is an actor, writer and comedian in Chicago. He is a writer for Choice The Musical and half of the comedy duo Flanders. Josh is a contributor for Chicago Reader and Chicagoland Musical Theatre, a member of the American Theater Critics Association, and a graduate of the Second City Conservatory. He is co-owner of Flanders Consulting.
Pictured: Molly Brennan and Larry Yando. Photo by Liz Lauren.
By Josh Flanders
Now in its 41st year at the Goodman Theatre, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, playing through December 30, continues to delight and touch audiences of all ages. Few plays remain relevant decade after decade, and even fewer theaters can retain the central themes of a classic while still adding new and exciting elements that keep patrons returning. Yet this is exactly what director Henry Wishcamper has accomplished with this production, allowing families to share in a story that touches on empathy, selflessness, and charity, while also providing lots of laughs, visual amazement, and more than a few surprises.
Last year was the first time I had seen the Goodman’s production of A Christmas Carol, and now having seen it a second time, I understand why this play has become a Chicago family tradition. In his 11th year as the delightfully scornful Ebenezer Scrooge, Larry Yando commands the stage with his often hilarious and always impactful performance. Paris Strickland adorably reprises her role at Tiny Tim for a second year, and hopefully many more to come.
Each year, the production team delights in creating different and thrilling incarnations of the various ghosts of Jacob Marley, and Christmas past, present, and future. Molly Brennan, as the Ghost of Christmas Past, displays stunning acrobatics coupled with jaw-dropping effects, and Jasmine Bracey as the Ghost of Christmas Present adds frivolity and a playfulness that balances the severity and tragedy of many of the present scenes that she and Scrooge visit. Musical Director Malcolm Ruhl provides an ensemble of wonderful live musicians. The duets and trios from the talented young actors are absolutely breathtaking. The visual effects are definitely the highlight of the show, and Keith Parham (Lighting Design) creates vibrantly memorable images, including one where Scrooge stands in front of a vast wall of stars that seem to go on forever.
The universality of Dickens’ story keeps this show germane and timely. The idea that we alone hold within us the power to change, open our hearts, and can make amends with family and friends, and that ultimately we all “wear the chains” we forged in life, are all concepts that continue to ring true. Our lust for power and profit, fear of the world, the hypocrisy of religion when misused by mankind, all remain familiar defects of human character. The class differences Dickens portrays, and the idea that many in poverty are bound to their employer, sadly have not changed since he wrote this story in 1843. Kudos to Adam Belcuore’s diverse casting which not only represents the world we live in but also reinforces the inherent power structure that exists in these economic systems.
A Christmas Carol is a hopeful and uplifting show, perfectly balancing the tone between mirthful and somber, silly and serious. It represents the best in what we wish for, but almost never actually achieve, namely changing a person’s awful behavior by appealing to their heart. Like this story, this type of change may only be possible by multiple divine interventions.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL runs through December 30. For more information visit goodmantheatre.org.