For eight seasons, Jeff Award-winning actor Larry Yando (The Goodman’s The Little Foxes and The Jungle Book) has simultaneously frightened and delighted theatergoers with his performance as greedy businessman Ebenezer Scrooge. Jeff-nominated actor Allen Gilmore also appears on the Albert stage as the miserly Scrooge, performing the role at select performances. Shortly before performances began, Yando and Gilmore spoke with OnStage Editor Michael Mellini about the joys of playing such a curmudgeon and why performing in the Goodman’s annual production is truly a unique experience.
Michael Mellini: Scrooge is such an iconic role. How do you approach playing him and does your performance change each year?
Larry Yando: My first year was about trying to fit into the production and learn all the technical aspects because it had already been going for so many years at that point. At the same time, [director] Bill Brown allowed me a lot of freedom to explore the character so I never felt any boundaries. You can do any number of productions of A Christmas Carol with cutesy, fun Scrooges, but I didn’t hold back from his dark side. For someone like Scrooge, who is so closed off to the world, I tried to start from the deepest, darkest place I could imagine. His journey is deeply human. I like to play damaged individuals because repairing that damage is interesting to me as an actor and, I would imagine, the thousands of people who come to see the play. People can relate to trying to find the light in a dark world and learning to let go of pain and fear. I still do that every year.
Allen Gilmore: This is my second year playing Scrooge, so I’m still exploring the role a bit and some things may change as I continue to learn and observe. Similar to how Larry once did, I stepped into a role and production that had been done many times; my approach involved an understanding that I must fulfill [the requirements] of very specific moments of the show and the role.
MM: What attracts you to return to A Christmas Carol each year?
LY: It’s the audiences. This is one of those basic stories that so many people can relate to and I see the relief and joy on their faces every year, even if they know what’s going to happen in the play. It gives people hope at a time of year that can be stressful. It’s a deeply moving story and I feel like I get to bring people along on a journey.
AG: I love the spirit of the season and the Goodman knows how to do Christmas. The cast always has so much fun on stage and off with things like Secret Santas, potluck dinners, baked goodies in the green room, a dressing room decorating competition, etc. There are a lot of wonderful traditions that make the backstage atmosphere quite different from other shows.
I love the spirit of the season and the Goodman knows how to do Christmas.
MM: Do you have a favorite part of the play or any favorite memories of performing in it?
LY: It’s fun to play Scrooge’s mean side, but I really enjoy the last 15 minutes of the play when everything gets brighter and happier for Scrooge. He becomes very present in his life and sees everything anew. One year, during one of the final scenes when Scrooge visits Fred’s house and embraces his nephew, it was totally silent as we hugged. Then, a tiny kid’s voice came from the balcony and just shouted, “Yay!” He was just so happy and relieved, and that’s kind of how everyone feels. We had to hold the show for a minute while the entire audience and cast laughed.
AG: I love the live music in the play, especially during Fezziwig’s party. And, of course, I love the flight that takes Scrooge back in time to his youth. I look forward to performing that again this year.
MM: Are there any holidays from your own past or even future you would like to be able to visit like Scrooge?
LY: I don’t quite know if this counts, but over the years I’ve missed a lot of weddings, holidays, funerals and other special occasions because I was in shows and wasn’t always able to get to those places. Looking back, I would have tried to not miss as many. I take performing very seriously because many people count on you; you can’t always take time off in the way you can with some jobs. So I would like to go back and see the things I may have missed.
AG: As I have gotten older, I find myself reflecting on my childhood Christmases. I loved our simple little aluminum tree and the light next to it that changed the color of the tree as it rotated on a disk. I would sit and watch it for long periods, marveling at its beauty.
MM: Do you have any other favorite Scrooges from film, television or theater?
LY: I always thought Alastair Sim [in the 1951 film adaptation of A Christmas Carol] was the best. I saw that as a kid and it made a deep impression on me. My performance is quite different from his, though.
AG: I love Alastair Sim as well; he was a terrific Scrooge. I also had the pleasure of being on stage with another wonderful Scrooge, John Anderson, the great television and film star of years past. And then there is Larry Yando, who is my patron saint and guiding light in the role. I’ve had the great benefit of watching his superb performance and learning from him. It’s been the best of situations to step into A Christmas Carol on his watch along with Henry Wishcamper, our great director.