Whether cinematic, musical or theatrical, holiday adaptations of Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” usually falls into one of two camps. There’s the storytelling kind whose emphasis on the text celebrates the work’s literary roots and seems to offer a sense of what Dickens’ own reading tours must have been like. And then there’s the all-out spectacle kind that no matter how clumsily executed can be enjoyable because it envelops its audience in atmospheric cheer. The Goodman Theatre’s thirtieth-anniversary production feels curiously pitched somewhere in the middle. It has the respectable adaptation true to Dickens’ original, the big sets and cast, music and special effects, but is ultimately a hollow experience that entertains for its two and a half hours but rarely uplifts—a Chicago tradition sadly in search of some heart. Longtime Goodman dramaturg Tom Creamer is the adaptor and his work is respectable, balancing the novel’s darker social commentary—it commendably includes the characters of Ignorance and Want, here played by two ragged children crawling from beneath the robe of the Ghost of Christmas Future—with plenty of merriment and sentimentality. But more often than not, the scenes are unnecessarily wordy, not quite informing or illuminating an audience that already knows the story by heart as much as retreading on familiar narrative ground. I also felt shortchanged that a final joyous scene between Scrooge and the Cratchits was omitted and replaced instead with a few unsatisfying third-person narrative sentences. Director William Brown’s staging rarely evokes the essence of a scene—the Cratchits’ poor holiday meal, a busy and bustling Victorian street—and I don’t recall there being that many memorable tableaus. Actor Larry Yando does a commendable job as Scrooge, finding pathos and heart in the famous curmudgeon, and the Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig scene is probably the show’s best, with the heart and seasonally snug joie de vivre that should have characterized the rest of the piece. As much as I wanted to with this “Christmas Carol,” in the end I just couldn’t bring myself to drink the eggnog. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, (312)443-3800. This production is now closed.