Actor Larry Yando truly knows what it means to be a Scrooge
The veteran Chicago actor has portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge in the Goodman Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol” for 15 seasons.
In the 45 years since the Goodman Theatre premiered its annual staging of “A Christmas Carol,” one Ebenezer Scrooge has dominated the seasonal tradition. This year marks the 15th year actor Larry Yando brandishes the “bah humbugs” of Charles Dickens’ infamous miser. He opens Nov. 19 in the Goodman’s annual staging of “A Christmas Carol,” which runs through Dec. 31 at the Loop theater.
Yando is one of 10 Ebenezer Scrooges to find redemption at the Goodman, but he’s been at it almost twice as long as anyone else in the production’s history.
He’s easily the most ubiquitous Scrooge in a season filled with them: Yando-as-Scrooge beaming from buses and banners is one of the holiday season’s earliest harbingers. The first year his visage emerged all over town, Yando was overwhelmed.
The Goodman Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’
When: Nov. 19- Dec. 31
Where: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago
Tickets: $24 - $144
“I was so excited, I’d take photos and send them to people,” Yando said shortly before rehearsals began for this year’s production, which features a 32-member ensemble directed by Jessica Thebus, returning for her third time at the “Christmas Carol” helm.
“And then I got over it and I actually had to stop looking at them because I started to pick apart what looked wrong with me,” Yando continued. “But every year I’ll get lots of texts with someone having taken a picture saying ‘I’m parking behind you, on Falwell,’ or ‘I just saw you on Lake Shore!’”
Yando holds the record for good reason, said Goodman Executive Director Roche Schulfer.
“Larry’s performance over the past 15 years has been extraordinary because his dedication to telling the story is unsurpassed. He is able to dig into the complexity of this character and investigate what makes Scrooge both specifically and universally human,” Schulfer said.
Both role and story are iconic. In Dickens’ well-known plot, Ebenezer Scrooge is introduced as a heartless miser who believes the poor are either wasteful sloths or criminals. Through a Christmas Eve visitation by ghosts (his former business partner Jacob Marley, followed by the Ghosts Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future), Scrooge transforms into a generous, compassionate soul.
After so many years, Yando says his muscle memory kicks in when he’s back in the rehearsal room. He knows the corkscrew staircase that twists through Scrooge’s counting house almost by heart and paces it off while reciting the lines.
“Fifteen,” he concluded a few days before this year’s production went into rehearsal. “Although I don’t know. Maybe it’s 20? Either way it’s very tight spiral. It keeps me in shape, going up and down that thing.”
When Yando debuted as Scrooge in 2007, he came in with a few preconceptions about Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella.
“It wasn’t a show I knew. It wasn’t one I’d ever seen,” he said.
“I always loved the story itself. Who doesn’t? And I thought it would be fun to play someone who hated everything and then turn it around 180 full degrees. I mean, as an actor, who wouldn’t want that role? It wasn’t until we got into rehearsal that I realized how mythic and deep this story runs.”
Yando is the latest in a distinguished line of Scrooges. William J. Norris performed the role from 1978 to 1983, reprising it from 1985-1990. Frank Galati took it in 1984. Tom Mula had the part from 1991-1997, followed by Steppenwolf ensemble member Rick Snyder (1998-2001), William Brown (2002-2005) and Jonathan Weir (2006). John Judd took it in 2010, when Yando was performing “Candide.” There are also alternate Scrooges. Yando cedes the stage at some performances to alternates, Kareem Bandealy in 2017-18, Alan Gilmore from 2018 on.
The role’s demanding flight sequences never phased Yando, who spent three years in the early Aughts getting pushed off a cliff eight shows a week when he played Scar in the national tour of Disney’s “The Lion King.”
“Flying never bugged me. It’s fun. I don’t fear heights. It feels freeing once you get over the harness, the mechanics of it. Once I hit my head because I was thrashing about acting too hard, but I always feel completely safe.”
If Yando looks familiar beyond Scrooge, it’s for good reason. He’s done more than a dozen shows at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the title role in “Lear” among them. He was an unforgettable Roy Cohn in Court Theater’s “Angels in America,” the same venue where he played leads in several Oscar Wilde productions including “Travesties” and “An Ideal Husband.” He’s also a regular on musical theater stages where he’s played everyone from Franklin Delano Roosevelt (at Marriott Lincolnshire) to most recently, Hercule Poirot, (at the Drury Lane Theatre.)
“I think the thing that keeps me coming back [to ‘A Christmas Carol’] is that show is like medicine sort of, a tonic,” Yando continued. “Every year my favorite part is looking at people’s faces at the end of the night. When audiences first come in, they have all the weight of the world on them. But it’s lightened at the end. I don’t know how else to describe it but I am vividly aware of it. The energy is amazing.”