A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Goodman Theatre, and A MUSICAL CHRISTMAS CAROL, Midwest Theatre Foundation, at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse. It’s easy to get all cynical and humbuggy about Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, but the tale is resonant enough, the characters vivid enough, the arc of the story line satisfying enough that there’s always room for one more interpretation–provided it reveals something new about the material. Henry Godinez’s darker, more emotionally satisfying version of the Goodman’s annual cash cow does. Death, hunger, and loss hang low over this Christmas Carol, and from the first icy moments of the show, when groups of holiday revelers desperately try to cheer themselves in a London cold enough to pass for Chicago, to Scrooge’s final moments with the deathlike Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come we feel in our bones the black subtext of Dickens’s novel: the world is harsh, love withers away, people die. It’s a blackness that makes the cheery ending all the more glorious.

The opposite happens in the sickeningly sweet musical version running at Candlelight, directed by and starring David Perkovich: the play starts out all happy, cartoonish, and charming, with Perkovich playing only Scrooge’s most obvious qualities–his age, his ill temper, his poor manners–and everyone else going for every cheap physical gag in the book. (I was surprised that Tiny Tim didn’t take a comic pratfall or two.) Emotional scenes that fail to move and comic bits that don’t amuse wear down the audience, and things get darker and darker–or at least the audience gets crabbier and crabbier–until by the play’s end we want to drive a stake of holly through Scrooge’s heart.

–Jack Helbig