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Showbiz Chicago Interview: MICHAEL URIE

Posted by: Showbiz Chicago (May 8, 2014)

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Stage, film and television star Michael Urie is coming to Chicago in the sold-out off-Broadway hit Buyer and Cellar, by playwright Jonathan Tolins.  In this one-,man show, Michael plays Alex More, a struggling Hollywood actor who gets a job as the sole employee of  Barbra Streisand’s underground mall, which  she had built beneath the barn of her Malibu estate.  The different shops within the mall display and protect the icon’s multitude of collectables .  I talked with the former Ugly Betty star about this hit production and how he prepared to play 7 different characters, including “Babs”  herself.

BUYER & CELLAR will play Chicago for a limited engagement beginning May 6, 2014 at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place (175 E. Chestnut). For more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com or www.BuyerandCellar.com.

Michael J. Roberts (M.J.R.) Hi Michael, thank you for talking with me today.  I was fortunate to see your performance inBuyer and Cellar last year in New York and you were absolutely fantastic and the show actually becomes something much deeper than the subject matter would suggest.   So how did you first become involved with the play?

Michael Urie (M.U.) Well Jonathan Tolins, the wonderful playwright behind Buyer and Cellar, and I were working on a new sitcom called Partners about a year and a half ago.  We both knew each other from doing some theatre projects, but we became very close during course of this new tv show.  He told me about a play that he had been writing which was inspired by Barbra Streisand’s coffee table book “My Passion For Design”, where she has literally build a mall of different “shops” in the underground of her barn to store her collectables.  Jonathan thought that was kind of funny and wondered what would happen if a guy actually had to work down there and greet customers and take care of all the merchandise in her underground mall, which is what my character of Alex does.

(M.J.R.) Did Jonathan write the character of Alex with you in mind ?

(M.U.) Well here is funny sorry.  No, the play was just about finished and when he had me read it and I told how much I liked it.  Then he told me that he gave the role to Jesse Tyler Ferguson who agreed to do it during his Modern Family hiatus.   Of course I was very happy for Jesse.

(M.J.R.) Oh no, did you pull a “Wilhelmina Slater” on Jesse?

(M.U.) Well, I didn’t need to, cause, lucky me, lucky me, Jesse decided to do Shakespeare in the Park.  So instead of Jonathan holding out for Jessie’s availability, he gave me his blessing and attached me to Buyer and Cellar.  Then right after that  Rattlestick Playwright Theater agreed to mount it.   I have to tell you that I can’t think of a quicker incubation period for any play to open off Broadway than Buyer and Cellar.  It came very quickly and was a great hit

(M.J.R.) Did that quick incubation period make it more challenging to discover your character, or characters, I should say?

(M.U.) It was very difficult and it was also the first time I have ever done a one man show so there was a lot of trial and error and I felt like I screwed up a lot.    Because I play six or seven different characters during the show, the challenge was made even harder by trying to find the right balance for myself and to also respect the real life people I play as well.

(M.J.R.) Let me tell you that you do a great James Brolin.

(M.U.) Well thank you.  Who knew? (both laughing).

(M.J.R.) What character did you find easiest to discover and which one was the hardest?

(M.U.) Oh, good question.  I knew that because the majority of time I had to be Alex (the main character) I needed him to be most like myself, so that was probably the easiest.  The hardest character was Alex’s boyfriend because they are both roughly the same age and roughly the same “type” of guy, and they have to talk and argue with each other. So to find the right balance so that their relationship is real and truthful was the most difficult.

(M.J.R.) You are also tasked with playing Babs herself, which you do in the most respectful manner by showing a lot of humanity.  A lessor actor could easily have that role become a caricature rather than a character.


Thank you for saying that Michael.  That was a learning experience as well because the Barbra that Jonathanwrote is an imagined Barbra who is very different that the one we see in movies or interviews.  But is my sense after doing a ton of research and watching her that she is her truest self when she is acting, and that discovery helped me find a way to play her in an honest way.

(M.J.R.) Prior to seeing Buyer and Cellar last year, I attended Bette Midler’s one woman show where she played Barbra’s agent Sue Menger’s during the height of her career in the 1970’s.     Seeing Midler’s play where Streisand was still trying to navigate stardom, then watching the isolation she seems to have embraced in Buyer and Cellar makes her more relatable in a lot of ways

(M.U.) Very true.  I have had the privilege in my career of having been given a little taste of celebrity and can certainly see how perspective’s change.  Her level of fame is unmatched but everything comes with a cost.   That is what is so great about the structure of Buyer and Cellar as it does not make fun or disrespect Barbra in any manner.    I think Jonathan’s script makes her understandable and accessible to everyone so you don’t even have to be a fan to get  something out of the  play.

(M.J.R.) You also recently starred in the Broadway revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying which is a big musical with huge cast.  As an actor, do get more satisfaction from being in an ensemble piece or a one man show, such as Buyer or Cellar.

(M.U.)  I try to work in the moment whether it is  television, a film or theatre.  An ensemble does make you feel a bit more protected  which I had with the cast of Ugly Betty  and How To Succeed.  But  there is a connection I have with the audience doing Buyer and Cellar that I have never had before  and they are on a journey with only myself to be able to make their night at the theatre enjoyable.

(M.J.R.) I also wanted to take a moment and thank you for all the humanitarian work you do for the LGBTQ community.  I’ve been at some of the charity events that you have chaired  you have an amazing gift to connect with people.   Also, congratulations on receiving the Clarence Derwent Award for your performance in Buyer and Cellar. Not even Babs received that one!!

(M.U.) Ah, thank you Michael, your very sweet.  I can’t wait to perform this play in Chicago and the Broadway Playhouse, which is such a great theatre space and is the  perfect space for the show!!


 For originating the role of Alex More in Buyer & Cellar at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater this spring, Urie received the Drama Desk Award, Clarence Derwent Award, and nominations for the Drama League and Outer Critics Circle awards.  New York theatre credits include How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Broadway), The Cherry Orchard (CSC), Angels in America (Signature), The Temperamentals (Lucille Lortel, Drama Desk and Theatre World awards, Drama League nomination), The Revenger’s Tragedy (Red Bull), Another Vermeer (HB Playwrights). Regionally, Urie has worked for The Old Globe, Vineyard Playhouse, South Coast Rep, Seattle Rep, Folger Shakespeare, Barrington Stage, Hyde Park (Austin) and The Blank (L.A.). Film: He’s Way More Famous Than You (also directed),Thank You for Judging (co-director/exec. producer), Beverly Hills ChihuahuaWTC ViewJeremy Fink and the Meaning of LifeThe Decoy BridePetunia and the upcoming Such Good PeopleThe Hyperglot (director) and Grantham & Rose (exec. producer). TV: “Hot in Cleveland,” “Partners” and Marc St. James on “Ugly Betty.”  Training: Juilliard.

Tickets for BUYER & CELLAR range from $35-75. A select number of premium seats are also available for many performances.  Tickets are available now for groups of 10 or more by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710.  Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and online atwww.BroadwayInChicago.com.

For more information,visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com or www.BuyerandCellar.com.

Production photos © Sandra Coudert

Mary Poppins

Posted by: Pierre's Costumes (May 7, 2014)

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Here at Pierre's Costumes we pride ourselves on our extensive stock of theatrical costumes.  As a theatrical costume shop we are ever growing when it comes to new musicals and Mary Poppins is no exception.  

This summer we are designing the full set of costumes for Mary Poppins.  It's such a fantastic show and is very near and dear to my heart personally.  I grew up with Mary Poppins and to be able to create a set of costumes for this show makes my heart sing.  

We are hoping to have costumes available for Fall 2014. If any one is interested in getting in on this wonderful oportunity please give us a call.  

We'd love to costume your production of Mary Poppins!! 



Theatre Department

Pierre's Costumes

(215) 925-7121



Podcast with Resident Director of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ DAVID RUTTURA

Posted by: Showbiz Chicago (February 5, 2014)

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Podcast with Resident Director of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ DAVID RUTTURA fromSHOWBIZ CHICAGO 

Cameron Mackintosh’s new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is currently playing to to sold out audiences at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre.Resident Director David Ruttura discusses the vision of this new U.S. tour and what fans of Phantom can expect to see when they walk through the theatre doors. For more information visit ThePhantomOfTheOpera.com/USTour or BroadwayInChicago.com

unnamedDAVID RUTTURA (Resident Director) has worked extensively as an Associate Director on Broadway (Spider-Man (Resident Director),Follies, Lombardi, Million Dollar Quartet, WhiteChristmas, A Man For All Seasons), Off-Broadway (Atlantic Theater Company, Roundabout), regionally (Kennedy Center, La Jolla Playhouse, Philadelphia Theatre Co., Old Jews Telling Jokes) and internationally (Ben Hur Live). Directing credits include projects with Gateway Playhouse, Araca Project, Ars Nova, 2g, Joe’s Pub, Fordham University, Ensemble Studio Theatre, among others. Film Credits include the Web-series Dick Punch and stalkTALK.davidruttura.com.

New version of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Is A Triumph

Posted by: Showbiz Chicago (January 17, 2014)

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Last evening, while walking through the lobby of the Cadillac Palace theatre to see the Cameron Macintosh’s new production of The Phantom of The Opera, there was a sense of excitement among the patrons that was electric.    Prior to walking through the theatre doors to take their seats, all the attendees huddled into little circles discussing their personal relationship with this unique blockbuster.  We (as I include myself in this pre-theatre gathering) debated our favorite Phantoms, the different countries and continents we have seen a production and how this show was benchmark in how we view other works. 

    From these conversations, one thing became apparent; any new production that deviates from director Hal Princes’ original is going to be microscopically dissected with reverence to what came before.   With reverence duly noted, Phantom of The Opera under the direction of Laurence Connor (who also directed the new Les Mis and the 25th Anniversary concert version of  Phantom) remains iconic. 



Andrew’s command, nothing in his score has been touched. The changes are visual and character driven. Original designer Maria Bjornson ‘s opulent yet largely implied vision of the Paris Opera House has been replaced with a more imposing drum that twists, turns and opens into sets that are grittier and more realistic.   This realism carries through to the performances, allowing to cast create more intimate on-stage relationships with each other.

Where Prince’s original was conceived as a stand-alone production, Mr. Connor’s version is developed to work on its own as well as setting up Webber’s 2009 sequel, Love Never Dies, which should to be viewed to fully understand the choices the actors make in their characters. Briefly, Love Never Dies takes place ten years later in Coney Island, New York, where Madame Giry and Meg help the Phantom to escape. Christine and Raul are married and have a ten-year-old musically gifted son, who turns out be you know whose.

This new production now places much more emphasis on Madame Giry’s character and allows the actor playing Raul to give it some added depth you don’t see in the fist version.  However the biggest noticeable change in character is the Phantom, who is now cast much younger in order to make the revelations in Love Never Dies more palatable.  These changes come at some expense to the emotional impact felt in Prince’s version. But considering that Connor’s production stays true to the heart of the original while also making the characters more fully developed, is a testament to his integrity and skill.

For this new U.S. tour, Mr. Connor has assembled a magnificent cast that is vocally superior to most every prior incarnation, especially in the clarity of the words that are sung. Ben Jacoby (som of stalwart Phantom Mark), is hands down the best Raul I have seen.  He has found many new angles that make this usually drab character multi-dimensional and interesting.    Julia Rose Udine’s Christine is spectacular and one of the best to ever have played this role.  There is no naiveté in Udine’s interpretation, giving us a strong, independent, Christine who is in control of everything except the her grief over her father, a famous violinist who passed three years prior.  Her inability to control his grief not only makes Udine’s version of Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again the new show stopper but also gives Cooper Grodin’s Phantom a manipulative way in.

This is where change in age, making the Phantom about 20 years younger, becomes an issue.  In the original, the larger age difference made it much easier to believe that Christine may actually believe that the self-professed ‘Angel of Music’ is her father reincarnate.  Mr. Grodin, and all other subsequent Phantoms who play the role in this version must find a way to overcome this hurdle, as it is a big one, but one that needs to be addressed.  That aside, Mr. Grodin, who only stepped into this role last week, is edgy, sexy and vocally stunning.     Where Grodin excels is in the “Final Lair” scene, where he dealves into emotional depths that I have not witnessed since seeing Michael Crawford.  And, by restaging Christine and the Phantoms final encounter, Christine realizes the depth of the Phantom’s love for her. This new ending is theatrically brilliant.

But,  the most riveting part of this version lies in the performance of our own Linda Balgord as Madame Giry.   Ms. Balgord drives the production where it needs to go.  There are no new lines or scenes for the character, which makes Balgord’s performance even more amazing.    Instead, it is through Madame Giry that all things are put into motion for the sequel and Balgord re-defines this role as no other actress could do.

And, to answer the most asked question that I have gotten.  Yes, the chandelier drop is still in the show, and better then ever.  In fact I have a piece of it next to me as a write this review.

Mr. Macintosh and Mr. Conner have given us a Phantom for a whole new generation.  It has been almost thirty years since Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman made history creating these roles and now the torch is passed that will
ensure the Opera Ghost’s success for decades to come.  Phantom is an unstoppable force that remains one of the greatest musicals of all time.    Do not dare miss this Phantom.

The Phantom of the Opera runs through March 2, 2014 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St, Chicago, IL.  For more information visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com or  www.ThePhantomOfTheOpera.com/ustourFor calendar information, visit www.TheatreInChicago.com

My "two cents" for 2014

Posted by: Cindy Ripley (January 3, 2014)

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Most likely you have deleted or adopted a resolution as we begin this New Year.  Let’s please leave the perennial favorite, “weight loss”, off the list but I am happy to put a few of my “favs” on it.

Clear the Clutter.  From backstage storage to your computer desktop, to your brain. Get rid of or at least organize anything that might hold up your new creative energy for 2014.   Go easy; a single step is a great start and will keep you motivated.

Learn WITH your kids. Pick a show you know very little about, try a new technique to learn music or choreography.  Some novelists say they start a story and they don’t know quite where its going but they are drawn into the unfolding of the story.  Teachers and students are most engaged in learning when they BOTH own it.  It is truly exhilarating.

Embrace Collaboration.  Arts teachers are the most caring, selfless, creative and crazy people on earth.  Invest in the team!

Ask for help. I know you would tell a child there is always someone they can go to for help.  Follow that advice for yourself.   http://www.mtishowspace.com/show_support.php

Encourage kids to do their best. Share your experience, stories and offer unconditional support. The child who played a tree in the back row will be your friend on Facebook 15 years from now.

Most importantly, have fun tapping into your artistic side sailing into 2014.  That one is non-negotiable.

Podcast with MICHAEL AARON LINDNER from ‘A Christmas Carol-The Concert’

Posted by: Showbiz Chicago (December 21, 2013)

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Podcast with MICHAEL AARON LINDNER from ‘A Christmas Carol-The Concert’ from SHOWBIZ CHICAGO on Vimeo.

MICHAEL AARON LINDNER discusses his role of Ebenezer Scrooge in the A Christmas Carol-The Concert and the process of putting this major new work on the stage.  Visit http://www.achristmascaroltheconcert.com/store to purchase the soundtrack and dvd of the concert.

Michael is a nationally recognized, Joseph Jefferson award winning actor who has performed at many prestigious theaters.His credits include Harry Bright in the National Tour of Mamma Mia!; Edna Turnblad in Hairspray at the Drury Lane Theater; Fezziwig in the Goodman Theater’s annual production of A Christmas Carol and Louis the Baker in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s critically acclaimed production of Sunday in the Park with George. He resides with his beautiful wife and two mischievous sons in Evanston, IL.

A Christmas Carol – The Concert. Charles Dickens beloved Christmas Carol as you’ve never seen it, or heard it before. Enjoy the timeless story of Ebenezer Scrooge through glorious, memorable and irresistible new songs in this instant holiday classic. A Christmas Carol – The Concert has musical styles that range from classical and Broadway, to blues and gospel.  In concert with Chicago’s PBS station WTTW it was filmed at the North Shore Center For The Performing Arts in Skokie, Illinois this past May.  It was filmed before a live audience using a full symphony orchestra, a choir made up of members of the Elmhurst College Choirand the Children’s Choir of Chicago and a rock/pop rhythm section. It starred Michael Aaron Lindner as “Scrooge”, E. Faye Butler as “The Narrator”, Scott Coulter as “Fred/Bob Cratchit & others”, Kyle Scatliffe as “Marley/The Ghosts & others”, and Arya Daire as “Belle”.

It was directed for stage by David Kersnar, conducted by Amy Duran, produced for television by Scott Silberstein and directed/edited by Matt Hoffman - both from HMS Media (Under The Streetlamp & Messiah Rocks).

Bob Christianson was musical director and executive producer.

A Christmas Carol – The Concert will premiere on PBS stations nationwide starting on December 14, 2013. Check your local listings for exact day and times of airing.


Have backdrops collecting dust? Ready to sell?

Posted by: Donna Wymore (December 6, 2013)

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Cobalt Studios is looking to expand our backdrop rental inventory. We know that there are great backdrops out there, collecting dust, that would be happy to find a new and useful life.

Our requirements:

17' to 22' in height and 35' to 50' in width

General themes (a forest, a city street), some show specific themes are okay.

Good condition: no holes, no rips, no mildew.

Our Pricing: 50 cents per square foot. We will pay for shipping costs.

Send size, condition and photos to: rentals@cobaltstudios.net

ELF THE MUSICAL Proves There is No Place Like Home

Posted by: Showbiz Chicago (December 3, 2013)

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Adapting a hit film to the stage is never an easy task. It becomes even more difficult when the film is so heavily recognized with its star. Such is the case with Elf, the 2003 modern day holiday classic that features Will Ferrell as Buddy, a 6ft tall human who was raised as one of Santa’s height challenged helpers after he stowed away in a toy bag one Christmas Eve. Santa finally tells Buddy who is really is as he sets off to meet his real father (who has spent many years on the naughty list) and live life happily ever after. Of course, as any orphan story goes, things do not go as planned and Buddy becomes a fish out of water in modern day Manhattan where the gap between true believers and merchandisers are a North Pole apart.

So what happens when you don’t have the star that is associated with the initial project to rely on? Well, you have to fallback and trust the material.

The 2010 musical version contains a vibrant book by Thomas Meehan (who knows how to write an orphan musical) and Bob Martin with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics penned by Chad Beguelin (who, in full disclosure, is a friend). Elf The Musical played limited holiday runs on Broadway for the last two years to sold out houses and even broke box office records for the theatre it occupied. Thankfully, the material is strong enough to stand on its own as a musical without its associated lead touring the country.

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Will Blum as Buddy and Larry Cahn (Walter) in ELF.

For the current tour the winsome Will Blum dons the green tights and creates an instant repore the audience, adults and children alike. In fact for an audience dominated by the young, there was nary an inappropriate sound throughout the theatre for the entire show. All of the major leads in this equity tour are first rate including Julia Louise Hosack as Buddy’s step-mom, whose amazing alto voice is thrilling to listen to; Lindsay Nicole Chambers brings a Kathy Griffin quality to Buddy’s love interest Jovie.; Larry Cahn gives a well rounded portrait of a father whose priorities have gone astray; and young Noah Marlow gives a outstanding performance as Buddy’s half brother Michael.

Director Sam Scalamoni strikes a nice balance between the fantasy of the piece and the reality of a family being slowly ripped apart. Choreographer Connor Gallagher creates some clever original dances for the height challenged elvess as well a beautiful ice skating sequence.

Elf The Musical along with Christmas Story, The Musical proves the viability of these stories in different mediums, whether told on the big screen or a proscenium stage. The message resonates now more than ever because it reminds us what is truly important, especially in this age of the have and have nots.

Elf The Musical plays through December 15, 2013 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.. For more information visit BroadwayInChicago.com.   For calendar information visitTheatreInChicago.com 



Posted by: Showbiz Chicago (November 27, 2013)

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image004Dee Snider, front man for the heavy metal sensation Twisted Sister and a cast member “Celebrity Apprentice Allstar” has paired up with Giuliana Rancic (“E! News,” “Fashion Police”) in a duet that rocks for a good cause. This electrifying reinterpretation of a holiday classic from Snider’s new musical production, DEE SNIDER’S ROCK AND ROLL CHRISTMAS TALE, marks Giuliana’s singing debut and a significant portion of the proceeds from all digital download sales will support her charity, Fab-U-Wish. This phenomenal foundation grants wishes to women undergoing treatment for breast and ovarian cancer. Snider and Rancic’s “Silent Night” will also be featured this coming spring on an episode of “Giuliana & Bill”on E!. Enjoy this special musical collaboration and, in return, make someone’s holiday merrier and brighter!

The new single dropped Tuesday, November 26, 2013. During the first week the song is available, it can be purchased for $0.99, and after that it will be $1.29. Visit iTunes.com to download.

DEE SNIDER’S ROCK AND ROLL CHRISTMAS TALE will make its World Premiere in Chicago and will play the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place (175 E Chestnut) Nov. 4, 2014 through Jan. 4, 2015. It will be part of the Broadway In Chicago 2014 Fall Season. Group tickets for 10 or more are now on sale by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710. Individual tickets for DEE SNIDER’S ROCK AND ROLL CHRISTMAS TALE will go on sale at a later date. For more information, visit www.broadwayinchicago.com 

Goodman’s “A Christmas Carol” a Wonderful Blend of New Elements and Familiar Faces

Posted by: Showbiz Chicago (November 27, 2013)

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(L to R) Ron Rains (Bob Cratchit) and Larry Yando (Scrooge) in A Christmas Carol at Goodman Theatre

Reviewed by: Joseph Hillenmeyer

Now entering its 36th year, The Goodman Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol” is a family tradition for many in the Chicago area. The story is Dickens at his best and one of the most beloved stories of the holiday season. My own interest in theatre blossomed when my family would make an annual trek to The Avenue Theatre in Lincoln Square in the early ’90s for the various renditions of the production that took place there. Shockingly, I think it’s been 20 years since I saw a performance and the Goodman’s rendition was certainly a reminder of why this story is still so celebrated even 170 years after it was written.

For the Goodman, Henery Wishcamper directs for the first time and clearly let ambition guide the production, with a set that was as remarkable as it was realistic. It takes little imagination from the audience to imagine the counting house in London in the 1800s, or the cold draft that surrounds Bob Cratchit (Ron Rains) as he warms his hands on his candle.


A.C. Smith (Ghost Of Christmas Present) in A Christmas Carol at Goodman Theatre.

While the workhouses and debtors’ prisons have closed, greed is as alive as ever. But present as it may be, Scrooge will always remind us, even 170 years from now, that people can change and hearts can warm. I think the best element of  Scrooge’s transformation is that it is not borne out of the fear which the third ghost has the power to instill, but the guilt that builds in him as he is forced to relive the moments in his life when he has chosen profits over people.

An honest-to-the-book rendition of the story, the production is brought to life with outstanding set elements and special effects. A.C. Smith also proves a welcome addition to the production as the Ghost of Christmas Present, as was the the live music during Fezziwig’s Christmas party. The Goodman’s performance will delight fans of the story and instill the Christmas spirit into any who see it, no matter how much of Scrooge they may be. 

“A Christmas Carol” runs through December 28 in the Goodman’s Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn. Tickets are $25 – $83 and are available online at GoodmanTheatre.org, by phone at (312) 443-3800 or at the box office. For show times and dates, visit the goodmantheatre.org