The miser's mellowed, but Goodman's 'Carol' has its charms

  • Ebenezer Scrooge (John Judd) takes flight thanks to help of the Ghost of Christmas Past in the Goodman Theatre's 33rd season of "A Christmas Carol" in Chicago.

    Ebenezer Scrooge (John Judd) takes flight thanks to help of the Ghost of Christmas Past in the Goodman Theatre's 33rd season of "A Christmas Carol" in Chicago. Courtesy of Goodman

  • Ebenezer Scrooge (John Judd) takes notice of Tiny Tim (Cameron Joseph Conforti) in the Goodman Theatre's 33rd season of "A Christmas Carol" in Chicago.

    Ebenezer Scrooge (John Judd) takes notice of Tiny Tim (Cameron Joseph Conforti) in the Goodman Theatre's 33rd season of "A Christmas Carol" in Chicago. Courtesy of Goodman

  • Ebenezer Scrooge (John Judd) is visited by the Ghost of Jacob Marley (Anish Jethmalani) in the Goodman Theatre's 33rd season of "A Christmas Carol" in Chicago.

    Ebenezer Scrooge (John Judd) is visited by the Ghost of Jacob Marley (Anish Jethmalani) in the Goodman Theatre's 33rd season of "A Christmas Carol" in Chicago. Courtesy of Goodman

  • Ebenezer Scrooge (John Judd) initially finds no pleasure in the Christmas holiday in the Goodman Theatre's 33rd season of "A Christmas Carol" in Chicago.

    Ebenezer Scrooge (John Judd) initially finds no pleasure in the Christmas holiday in the Goodman Theatre's 33rd season of "A Christmas Carol" in Chicago. Courtesy of Goodman

  • Ebenezer Scrooge (John Judd, center) looks back as his younger self (Eric Parks, right) falls in love with Belle (Tiffany Scott) in the Goodman Theatre's 33rd season of "A Christmas Carol" in Chicago.

    Ebenezer Scrooge (John Judd, center) looks back as his younger self (Eric Parks, right) falls in love with Belle (Tiffany Scott) in the Goodman Theatre's 33rd season of "A Christmas Carol" in Chicago. Courtesy of Goodman

 
 
Posted12/2/2010 12:01 AM

It's the 33rd time around for the Goodman Theatre's "A Christmas Carol," but there is still lots of charm to be found in this annual holiday production.

The big question with this year's "Christmas Carol" is how Chicago actor John Judd stacks up in his first-time take on the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge.

 

Playing Scrooge is a difficult task, since it's likely that many people in the audience have preconceived notions of how Scrooge behaves (thanks to so many previous stage and screen interpretations). And then there's the stamina factor as well, since Scrooge rarely leaves the stage once he makes his first appearance in his chilly counting house.

Not having seen Larry Yando, Judd's Goodman Scrooge predecessor for the previous three seasons, I can't compare and contrast how the two differ in the role. But what Judd displays is certainly respectable, if not quite so nasty as one might expect.

Judd glowers and growls right on cue from the start as Scrooge, telling off the shocked charity workers of Lisa Tejero and Michael Perez with plenty of aplomb. Judd's Scrooge is equally confrontational with his nephew Fred (Andy Truschinski), but here it all feels like unmotivated bluster (particularly since Truschinski gets overly worked up into a shouting match over the matter of Christmas cheer).

My problem with Judd's Scrooge is that he melts so quickly from his mean-spirited nature the moment the Ghost of Christmas Past (a high-flying Susan Shunk) shows him a flashback of his childhood school. From then on, Judd's Scrooge operates on the level of slightly annoyed crotchety instead of deep-seated misanthropy. It makes his character's life-or-death change of heart not that much a surprise when it comes to pass.

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If Judd's respectable take on Scrooge doesn't entirely knock your socks off, then there are still plenty of other entrancing stage effects and performances to enjoy in this year's "Christmas Carol."

Director William Brown (who has previously played Scrooge for four seasons himself) finds special moments of delight and humor in Tom Creamer's sturdy and dramatic take on Charles Dickens' evergreen 1843 novella.

The roving troupe of live musicians is back (Gregory Hirte on violin, Justin Amolsch on French horn and Malcolm Ruhl on accordion), providing great opportunities for carols to burst forth (and a hearty laugh when Fred's party guests attempt to sing "Good King Wenceslas").

And several "Christmas Carol" veteran actors return to share their expertise. Ron Rains wins most of the evening's laughs as Bob Cratchit, whether it's his persistent sneezing early on or his physical humor of sneaking back into work late. Penelope Walker is also wonderful as the boisterous Ghost of Christmas Present, pushing her cheeriness on all who pass by.

There are some quibbles with Brown's staging. The willingness to go for the cute child "awww"-factor (particularly when the servant boy of Naren Chaudhry embraces Scrooge so suddenly after his overnight personality change) can feel forced. So can the rigorous Irish step-dancing that is led by Scrooge's Irish-ized love-interest Belle (Tiffany Scott) at Mr. Fezziwig's party (it's a dated reminder of how "Riverdance" was still at the height of its popularity 10 years ago when the Goodman unveiled a new "Christmas Carol" production to match its new Dearborn Street home in the Loop).

Though Judd's first-time Scrooge may not live up to many people's heightened expectations, the show itself remains a wonderful way to get into the spirit of the season. The Goodman Theatre's "A Christmas Carol" still delivers as a spectacle-filled holiday treat.