This is Larry Yando’s 13th year as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Goodman’s “A Christmas Carol” — he’s been at it nearly twice as long as Jacob Marley’s been dead (as a doornail) when Charles Dickens’ Christmas ghost story begins.
If you’ve seen Yando’s Scrooge, you know that he and the rest of the Goodman’s repeat cast members and designers have set a high bar for themselves with past productions. It’s unfair to compare director Jessica Thebus’ audio play version this year with the “Christmas Carols” of Christmas past. But it’s difficult not to. What’s lost this year, along with the opulent visuals, is the grand sense of scale created by a sprawling ensemble bustling about (and sometimes literally flying over) London.
That’s a comparatively small price for what the audio play gains, arriving as it does in the context of a pandemic that has decimated the economy and thrown millions out of work, live theater artists among those hit the hardest. The food insecurity and dire health-care straits of Tiny Tim (Vikram Konkimalla ) hit with acuteness in 2020. So does the call to connect with fellow humans, lest ye be doomed like poor Jacob Marley (Kareem Bandealy).
Like its live stage predecessors, audio “Christmas Carol” is rich with compelling drama and well-drawn characters. There are real stakes, memorable performances and glorious music. Before it ends, you will feel you are curled up with a plate of gingerbread before a roaring fireplace and a pile of presents even if none of that is remotely in the cards this season.
Tom Creamer’s stage adaptation has been adapted for audio by Neena Arndt, Thebus and sound designer Richard Woodbury. They’ve beefed up the exposition, giving the Narrator (Andrew White) a lot of the heavy lifting. White is fabulous with the adjectives, even when the script itself lays them on thick. The visuals he creates are vivid.
Sound is obviously in the spotlight, so to speak. Not to worry. Woodbury, composer Andrew Hansen and music director Malcolm Ruhl are, as the dialogue describes the house-band at the Fezziwig office party: “people who know their business.”
The music paints pictures: A Copland-esque surge of elation crescendos as Scrooge takes flight with the Ghost of Christmas Past (Aurora Real de Asua, delivering a childlike spirit luminous with ancient wisdom). A rollicking jig provides a glitter bomb of merriment at the Fezziwig’s (Penelope Walker, Cindy Gold) party. The soprano of the lone child (Asher Alcantara) singing carols in the dark is as piercing as an icicle. The wailing wraiths closing out Jacob Marley’s visitation are haunting. And make sure to listen for the “Noel” carol sung at the “Christmas Present” party hosted by Scrooge’s niece Frida (Dee Dee Batteast). It’s as gorgeous as the first snowfall.
Yando’s an emotive joy: He spews venom like a human Grinch. As the tale winds on, you can all but hear the scales falling from Scrooge’s eyes. Thomas J. Cox’s Bob Cratchit bears exhaustion like a yoke, lightened only by his own faith in human goodness. Bethany Thomas’ Ghost of Christmas Present conjures lavish bounty and harrowing devastation. Allen Gilmore’s schoolmaster is a highlight. When he sneers about “frivolity” and bellows about “filth,” it’s as if he alone stands between his cowering child-charges and their descent into the Seven Unholy Sins of Gomorrah.
Early in “A Christmas Carol,” Frida speaks on the folly of “keeping all human sympathy at a distance.” With physical distance blocking so many holiday traditions, it’s a trenchant line. Whether your family is blood, chosen or hybrid, “A Christmas Carol” — the Audio Play, will underscore the importance of keeping them close.
Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.