It’s always good to give venerable traditions a freshening up, and Goodman Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol” is getting a welcome facelift this year courtesy of director William Brown, who has been associated with the production as an actor for a quarter century and even took on the Scrooge mantle for the last four years. It doesn’t always work when an actor has handled the smallest to the largest roles in a production and he/she can simply steps up and takes over the director’s chair, but in this case the result is a production where even the smallest details are treated as important; from the top down, this is as good a “Christmas Carol” as Goodman has presented in the work’s nearly three-decade history. Jonathan Weir has, like Brown himself, played a number of roles in past “Carol”s, but this is his debut as Scrooge, and his subtlety in the role and superb timing make his characterization more three-dimensional than usual. The trajectory from Scrooge’s miserliness to his redemption is often too drastic, but not here. From the moment Weir begins flying with the Ghost of Christmas Past and goes from gently complaining to quietly laughing at the sensation, Weir’s credibility in the role makes Scrooge’s Yuletide journey more meaningful. You can’t help but marvel at how much action is streamlined into Goodman dramaturg Tom Creamer’s adaptation, which moves at virtually a cinematic pace and owes much to years and years of seeing what works and what doesn’t. Dickens often takes a backseat to vaudevillian dialogue that fills out a scenario, but more often than not, this is a production that chooses to communicate visually and emphasize the dark comedy of Scrooge’s familiar predicament. Because Scrooge finds it cynically terrifying and heartwarming, so do we. (Dennis Polkow)
“A Christmas Carol” plays at the Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn, (312)443-3800, through December 30, 2006.