Upcoming Theatre

Chicago has no shortage of Christmas traditions. In other words, if you’re looking for holiday fun it’s not very hard to find something to do with your friends, significant other or family. Rich traditions such as Zoolights at Lincoln Park Zoo, Joffrey’s Nutcracker, Christkindlmart, Christmas film classics at Music Box, and the official Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Millennium Park are fantastic choices that are sure to put a little zest into your holiday spirit, but Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol might have to top the list.

Celebrating its 40th year of warming hearts through the holidays, this year’s production of A Christmas Carol might just be the best yet. Larry Yando returns to Goodman as Ebenezer Scrooge, a role he has taken on with brilliance for the past nine years. Yando is just about as fun to watch as it gets from his miserable, miserly like behavior to his reborn childlike love of humanity after three spirits visit him to show him his past, present and future.

As the story by Charles Dickens goes, Scrooge is a man with little heart. He is a man who pinches every penny, treats his employee like a flunky without mercy, as he works his fingers to the bone, wants nothing to do with his remaining family and has nothing but miserable rebuttals for those who wish him a Merry Christmas, replying with “Bah Humbug!” When his former, and now deceased, partner, a man much like Scrooge appears to him on Christmas Eve to warn him of his horrid ways and the cost it has on so many and will on himself, we learn that Scrooge will be visited by three spirits – Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.

As each spirit visits Scrooge, more and more is revealed about his nature. He remembers he didn’t start out as he is now. He was a good-natured boy with hopes and dreams once upon a time. In the present he sees how those who know him feel about him. Though mean and cruel to many, they still thank him and toast to him. He see’s the hardships his mistreated employee Bob Cratchit and his family face on his meek salary. He is obviously embarrassed as they still find reasons to be thankful to Scrooge. He sees a future that is bleak. He is just a miserly old man quickly forgotten.

“Are these the things that will be or the things that may happen?” He asks the spirit, hoping for a chance to redeem himself.

While Yando undoubtedly is a tour de force in the role as Scrooge, the entire cast is a powerhouse. Ron E. Rains is highly believable as the tenderhearted Bob Cratchit and is easy to feel for almost immediately. Joe Foust as Jacob Marley is also tremendous as is Lisa Gaye Dixon who wows the audience with her incredibly strong performance as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Kareem Bandealy also gives the production a strong assist as he skillfully fields a handful of roles including that as the show’s narrator, Topper and a hopeful young Scrooge who misses his chance at love choosing a chance at making more money instead -a decision that haunts him his entire life.

The ever-changing set is visually stunning as it changes from Scrooge’s house interior (curtains surrounding his bed and all) to the Cratchit’s humble kitchen where the room is crowded as the family sits around a table to eat a meager portion of roast duck for Christmas. Stars shine amongst the blackness as Christmas Present takes Scrooge on a ride he’ll never forget.

Goodman also breaks the mold casting a girl in the role of Tiny Tim Cratchit. Fourth grader Paris Strickland who delivers the famous line at show’s end “God bless us, every one” is excited to play Tiny Tim telling the Chicago Tribune, “I feel excited and proud of myself for getting a really inspiring role. Tiny Tim can bring hope to everyone, and I can bring hope to everyone.”

Goodman’s A Christmas Carol is not only rich tradition in Chicago, it is a fun-filled holiday treat that is sure to warm the heart and remind us that giving is better than receiving.

Highly recommended.

A Christmas Carol is being performed in the Albert Theatre at Goodman Theatre through December 31st. For more show information visit www.goodmantheatre.org.


Published in Theatre in Review

I've seen Hell in a Handbag’s production of “Christmas Dearest” before and the dazzling funny and yet touching show has now officially become part of my true Holiday tradition. The reason being is that it takes the classic tale "A Christmas Carol" and throws some six-inch, size 11 heeled, f*ck me pumps on it, tosses back a martini, lights up an extra-long cigarette and says "We love you just the way you are”.  It is Christmas time - the time for Love and Acceptance is really here happening in Chicago! 

 

David Cerda wrote the script and the book for this adorable musical theater piece and I am continuously blown away by his huge amount of talent. 

 

Always one to give his shows 110 percent of his energy, no matter how many hats he has to wear at once, I must say Cerda was absolutely on FIRE with the spirit of Joan Crawford at the opening night performance!! Joan has been asked to play "Mary, the Mother of God” on the big screen and Cerda plays her searingly with beauty, ugliness and star charisma. 

 

Crawford is cheap and cruel and wants to force the entire cast to work on Christmas Day.  Soon the witchy Crawford is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Even the actual "Mary, Queen of Heaven" comes down from her  Royal Heavenly Throne to advise Crawford that she better shape up or she'll be dead soon, along with her dying career.

 

Hell in a Handbag's company of regulars are essential including the ever-reliably hysterical Ed Jones as Crawford's empathetic assistant/slave. New additions also add punch such as recent Northwestern graduate Frankie Leo Bennett as Crawford's now infamous biographer daughter, Christina, and Roosevelt University undergrad Alexa Castelvecchi who has a great voice and  lovely stage presence as a young Crawford who is shown to have once been a caring, generous young girl before "Hollywood casting couches” and politics ruined her psychologically. 

 

Also deserving of extra special mention is "Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” in the form of Bette Davis, played to laughable perfection by Caitlin Jackson dressed in a fantastically dead on and literally dead "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" costume. 

 

The hysterical and perfectly tailored costumes for every single character by Kate Setzer Kamphausen, and equally indispensable wigs designed by Keith Ryan were colorful and perfectly dated in the most kitschy way possible for maximum laughs. 

 

Now there are some great theater companies in Chicago where the founder or artistic director would not be missed if absent from a single production but David Cerda is not one of them. Cerda displayed his complete control over the cast and audience when he reached for a martini accidentally placed a few feet too far from his chaise and got the biggest laugh from the audience when he addressed us with a droll improvised "Eight weeks of rehearsal...". 

 

I highly recommend this darling, genuinely laugh out loud funny and open-minded musical production to everyone ready to rock and possibly drink their way through their heartbroken holidays! Christmas Dearest is being performed at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville through December 29th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.handbagproductions.org. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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