'Christmas Carol': 40th anniversary at Goodman

The holiday chestnut seems warmed over an open fire with the natural flavors pronounced

 Larry Yando is Scrooge and Jasmine Bracey is the Ghost of Christmas Present in “A Christmas Carol.” (Goodman Theater)

Larry Yando is Scrooge and Jasmine Bracey is the Ghost of Christmas Present in “A Christmas Carol.” (Goodman Theater)

By Ted Cox

As the state celebrates its bicentennial, Chicago’s Goodman Theater is marking the 40th anniversary of its annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”

Both, it turns out, have been downsized, streamlined, and reconsidered.

The chosen few who make it a point to see the production every year will notice a few key changes. The festive early crowd scenes establishing a holiday mood have been trimmed. On the other hand, the entry of the first ghost, Ebenezer Scrooge’s old business partner, Jacob Marley, has also been muted. (For the first time in a while, no child I saw asked to be carried out after its appearance early in the play.) As such, the Goodman’s 41st annual version of Charles Dickens’s “Christmas Carol” runs a few minutes shorter, at two hours, 15 minutes, including an intermission.

Henry Wishcamper returns as director for the sixth year, but he isn’t running on autopilot, having tweaked the production here and there in an attempt to reduce the schmaltz and renew the story’s power. Likewise, Larry Yando, returning as Scrooge, minimizes the mugging from last year, while preserving effective moments such as his jaw dropping open when he overhears his niece and her holiday guests playing a guessing game about some ornery beast — that turns out to be Scrooge himself.

 When Jasmine Bracey’s Ghost of Christmas Present reveals Ignorance (Henry Lombardo) and Want (Maggie Chong), it remains a chilling moment. (Goodman Theater)

When Jasmine Bracey’s Ghost of Christmas Present reveals Ignorance (Henry Lombardo) and Want (Maggie Chong), it remains a chilling moment. (Goodman Theater)

The Goodman’s traditional colorblind casting changes the characters’ sex as well from time to time, almost always to good effect. Jasmine Bracey replaces Lisa Gaye Dixon as the jolly Ghost of Christmas Present, but is almost equally effective. Scrooge’s nephew in the book becomes his niece, played by Ali Burch, and there’s a tender moment, toward the end, when Scrooge looks at a portrait of her mother, his sister, as she stands beside him.

Molly Brennan is back as the Ghost of Christmas Past, not so much an ethereal pixie as she is a precocious punk, with aerial acrobatics worthy of a Pink concert. And Paris Strickland, who has her own backstory as an 11-year-old cancer survivor who was treated as a newborn at what’s now Lurie’s Children Hospital in Chicago, is back as Tiny Tim, a stage veteran.

This old holiday chestnut seemed a bit candy-coated last year, but this year seems warmed directly over an open fire with all the natural flavors pronounced.

Some 1.5 million people have seen “A Christmas Carol” since it debuted at the Goodman in 1978.

“A Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 30 at the Goodman, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. Tickets range from $25 to $119, but with deals available for students and day-of mezzanine seats. For the first time, there will also be a Spanish-translated performance at 8 p.m. Dec. 28 and a sensory-friendly performance, a partnership with Autism Speaks — Chicago, at 2 p.m. Dec. 29.