Having been here at the beginning of A Christmas Carol, I don’t know if I can even describe what it means to me. During this 40th anniversary, it’s been very moving hearing the stories of audience members who’ve been coming for most of that time—people who are now adults who were named after Tiny Tim in the early years. Or people who were young seeing it 40 years ago and now are on the verge of bringing their grandchildren. We certainly hoped it would be successful, but I don’t know if we ever envisioned something like this.
A Christmas Carol is a story about forgiveness, growth of the human spirit, giving. It’s a play about very basic values, that, if they were more prevalent in our world, things might be better than the current state. So to be able to present that story in a way that is available to families each year is a big thing. A Christmas Carol is great because it’s a family event. You see people at intermission and afterwards talking with their kids about their experience, and it’s a great entry point for young people into the theater. I’m really happy this year that we’re doing the Sensory-Friendly performance because that will allow even another group of young people and audiences in general to attend the production. People always ask me, “What is your favorite production in 40 years at the Goodman?” and how can I not say A Christmas Carol? To be able to go from presenting a play to being a custodian of the Chicago holiday tradition—it’s an honor and a privilege. It’s something we take more seriously than people can possibly imagine.
The Goodman has been committed to developing diverse artistic works, artists and audiences for a long, long time. A Christmas Carol was key to that in the early 1980s. When we first had open casting for the production there was push-back. There were people who said, “I don’t know…is this historically accurate?” We said, “It’s a ghost story!” It’s a story about humankind.
Last year Scrooge’s nephew became his niece, and this year there’s another attempt to broaden the casting. A Christmas Carol is an opportunity to, in a subtle way, illuminate certain values to audiences. This audience is very different from the rest of our audience—there’s only about 20-25% crossover. So we’re really able to reach people who we don’t normally reach, which is great. Over the years you’ll hear kids saying to the parents, “Mommy, how come the Cratchits have all these different children?” And I say, “Oh, that’s going to be a good conversation to have on the way home.” That’s the kind of thing you can do with A Christmas Carol. Let the kids see it and talk to their parents about it.
We’ve been through so many things over the years. In our original production we had almost life-like dummies of Scrooge and Ghost of Christmas Present who would track across the proscenium during Scrooge’s trip around the world. When we went to go take the show out of the warehouse one year, the warehouse had been broken into and the dummies were gone. We didn’t think anything of it, but in filing the police report the media got hold of it. So suddenly on the six o’clock news was, “What Scrooge stole Scrooge?” It was the best publicity we had up to that point.
At the end of the day, A Christmas Carol has been around 40 years because the actors and directors who work on it are completely committed to telling the story in a truthful way, not simply making it a holiday entertainment or diversion. They’re here to get the full meaning of it and without that, the production would devolve into something that’s entertaining but not particularly meaningful. Book-ending the 40 years is William J. Norris, who was the first Scrooge and whose performance was so extraordinary it raised up the rest of the production. Now for the past 10 years, we’ve had Larry Yando, who’s the centerpiece of an extraordinary production all around. For me it’s about the work and the work is done by those people on stage.