The Goodman Theatre is currently celebrating the 40th anniversary of A Christmas Carol. Through the decades, this popular perennial stage adaptation of Charles Dickens' most famous novella has featured hundreds of actors.
Two such performers are the couple Molly Brennan and Malic White. Both starred opposite each other earlier this year in American Theater Company's non-binary cast revival of William Inge's Picnic, plus they've also collaborated on the 2015 show Pop Waits for The Neo-Futurists.
Brennan currently brings her physical comedy skills as an ex-member of 500 Clown to the Ghost of Christmas Past. And back in the 1990s, White made their professional stage debut as a child actor in the production (trans performer White requested the pronouns they/them/their to be used on second reference).
"I actually saw Malic in it back in 1995. We didn't know each other then, of course," Brennan said. "I've gone to see the Goodman's Christmas Carol most of the years since I moved here in 1993."
"I got to see Molly in A Christmas Carol this year on opening night and she was wonderful," White said. "The production changes quite a bit every year, but it did bring back memories since a lot of the props are the same."
Both White and Brennan have quirky audition stories tied to the show. White recited Edgar Allan Poe's The Telltale Heart as their audition piece, since it was the only kind of monologue they knew.
"The entire audition panel laughed, probably because it was cute that a 5-year-old kid was telling a very scary story," White said. "I thought that they just hated it because why would you ever laugh at such a terrifying story? So I was very surprised and grateful when I got the part."
Brennan was asked to be seen for the flying Ghost of Christmas Past, which has often switched genders through the years and previously been played by out actors like About Face Theatre ensemble members Elizabeth Ledo and Patrick Andrews.
Without being asked by director Henry Wishcamper (who previously worked with Brennan on Animal Crackers at the Goodman), Brennan devised all kinds of choreography with prop flashlights. She even constructed a headdress that lit up, too.
"That's how I like to audition for stuff, which is to go full out and show what I can bring to the table as an artist," Brennan said. "What's really cool is that not only did I get the part, Henry also decided to go in the direction that I was going to in terms of the costume and who the character was."
It's an expressed philosophy at the Goodman Theatre that its take on A Christmas Carol should inclusively reflect the different populations of Chicago. Colorblind casting has been a big part of the production for many years, which Brennan and White both vigorously support.
"My base philosophy on making theater in Chicago is that all season and all shows should reflect the population of the city," Brennan said. "To me what Henry is doing with A Christmas Carol is a shining example of what should be happening everywhere."
A Christmas Carol continues through Sunday, Dec. 31, at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets are $25-$112; call 312-443-3800 or visit GoodmanTheatre.org .
Future 'Boy in the Band'
Out actor Robin De Jesus (Camp, In the Heights) is making his national touring debut in Wicked. The 2003 Broadway blockbuster is back for its fourth Chicago visit through Sunday, Jan. 21.
De Jesus plays the munchkin Boq, who pines for the flighty "good witch" Glinda. It's a replacement role the Tony Award-nominee previously stepped into three years ago on Broadway.
Yet De Jesus is already anticipating his Broadway return this spring in a starry revival of Mart Crowley's iconic 1968 gay drama The Boys in the Band. It's to be directed by Tony Award winner Joe Mantello (Wicked, Assassins), and Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story) is one of the lead producers.
Some of De Jesus' announced out co-stars include Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory, Harvey), Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, The Glass Menagerie), Matt Bomer (The Normal Heart, Magic Mike) and Andrew Rannells (Girls, The Book of Mormon).
"When Joe asked me to do [an exploratory reading of The Boys in the Band], most of us thought, 'This play is so dated.' We didn't think it would work," said De Jesus, noting how self-loathing the characters are in that pre-Stonewall period. "But upon re-reading it after the 2016 election, it felt very different and felt very appropriate, unfortunately."
De Jesus hopes that many LGBTQ youth who have started to feel more normalized in U.S. society will see the play as a historical warning. The characters' pettiness and willingness to turn on each other is a symptom of living under constant repression.
"It is not just a campy gay play," De Jesus said. "The best thing that Ryan Murphy said to Joe Mantello was to read it as if it was an Edward Albee dramaand that is what changed our perspective. It will be really exciting to sink our teeth into."
Wicked continues through Sunday, Jan. 21, at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Tickets are $52-$162; call 800-775-2000 or visit BroadwayInChicago.com .