Goodman Theatre Celebrates 38th Annual ‘A Christmas Carol’

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Photo Source: Liz Lauren

It may be too early for theatergoers to start thinking about the holidays, but when it comes to ticket sales for the Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” Executive Director Roche Schulfer isn’t worried. “We joke about the fact that every year when the first snowflakes fall, the spike in the ‘Christmas Carol’ sales is significant,” he told Backstage. “ ’Tis the season.”

The Chicago theater is celebrating its 38th consecutive season producing Charles Dickens’ timeless tale. Adapted by Tom Creamer and helmed by longtime Chicago director Henry Wishcamper, this year’s show runs Nov. 14–Dec. 27 on the Albert Theatre stage. It’s a testament to the strength of the Windy City’s theatergoing community that “A Christmas Carol” has become such an important tradition; many families have been attending it for decades.

Schulfer said giving back to that community has also become central to the show’s endurance. “We raised a couple hundred thousand dollars from performances of ‘A Christmas Carol’ over the last 15 years,” he said. Proceeds go towards Chicago’s Season of Concern, which supports local artists with illnesses, as well as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Originally, Schulfer and then–artistic director Gregory Mosher conceived the show as a way to produce a piece coinciding with the holidays. “We reflected on the fact that it was always hard to get people to attend the theater in December because they’re in a holiday frame of mind,” said Schulfer. Theatrical productions of the Dickens classic were not unheard of 38 years ago, but “it was a pretty new idea. The board didn’t necessarily jump up and down with joy when we said we were doing it! It was, at that time, the biggest production in the Goodman’s history.”

Local actor William J. Norris was the first to portray the story’s miserly hero, Ebenezer Scrooge. “He proceeded to do it for the next 10 years, which established it as a Chicago tradition,” Schulfer said. This season, Larry Yando marks his eighth year as the character, supported by a massive, diverse cast, as well as several young performers. Many established stars, including Jessie Mueller, Laura Innes, and Raúl Esparza, count the Goodman’s “Christmas Carol” among their credits.

Each year, the company finds new ways to enhance the play’s spooky elements—as Schulfer pointed out, it is very much a ghost story—and encourage audience participation. “The main reason to do it,” he added, “is the work itself: the moral tale it tells about redemption, beginning your life again, and respecting your past and, perhaps, your mistakes. We never wanted to do a comic version. We were always very serious about the moral of the story.” Dickens’ message of generosity resonates from generation to generation, a universal allegory that comes to life each year on the Goodman stage. “It’s introduced tens of thousands of young people to the theater, but also adults who approach it as a serious piece, not just a holiday diversion.”

Merry early Christmas! God bless us, everyone.

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