Goodman Theatre’s Music Director, Malcolm Ruhl, is joined by his daughter, Madeline, for the theater’s 38th production of “A Christmas Carol.” Make It Better had a chance to sit down with the director and flutist, who have lived in Highland Park and Evanston.
Make It Better: Malcolm, you’ve been a part of this for a few years now.
Malcolm: This is my 11th season.
What are you looking forward to the most, having been a part of it for so long?
Malcolm: A lot of it is the thing I look forward to every year, which is, telling this story. Every year it’s relevant in slightly new or different ways, depending on what’s going on in the world, but I think the journey that Scrooge takes through the play is one that all of us can benefit from reliving every year. I love that aspect of it. I also love that there’s always a sizable number of people returning from year to year, so there are a few people in the show who I’ve worked with every year since I started. First rehearsal is kind of like a holiday reunion with your extended family. And there are enough new people that it’s sort of like that holiday celebration where someone brings their new significant other, to complete that comparison. And I get to play music with people I love to play music with. It’s a great place to be and a great place to work every holiday season.
And Maddi, this being your first year, what are you looking forward to the most?
Maddi: It’s a great story and I’ve actually seen it every year he’s done it, but this is the first time I’m seeing it from the inside. There’s just a lot of opportunities to get more out of it that I really appreciate and I’m enjoying in the rehearsal process. There are just a lot of lessons in this story that I think are really important. There are so many returning people this year that only two members of the adult cast are new and I’m one of them. It is kind of like coming to somebody else’s holiday party, but everyone is super welcoming and it’s a really good group of people, so it’s not like going to a hostile Christmas party.
What do you think it is about “A Christmas Carol” that keeps people coming back every year?
Malcolm: For the audience, I feel like it’s that whole sense of going through this renewal process. I think there are a lot of people, like me, who actually see aspects of Scrooge in themselves, in terms of the way we prioritize our lives. This story serves as a reminder of the importance of more charitable ways to look at the world. I also think people return because it is a family tradition. They bring their kids when they’re young and it becomes a thing a lot of people look forward to every year, which both helps us to be here every year to tell the story, and challenges us to say, ‘How can we better tell the story or make it more entertaining by tweaking this or that?’ Because a lot of those people really do notice the details. And she [Maddi] can answer to that because she’s been one of those people. She actually has an advantage over any of the rest of us musicians, because none of us have ever seen the show from the outside.
Maddi: From primarily an audience member’s perspective, I went every year kind of to see the changes. I was interested in seeing what they did different. I think I also wanted to experience that story again because, like he said, I think there’s a story that we want told to us as a reminder and as a kind of a refresher course on being a good person, especially that time of year when people are more reflective about that sort of thing.
Is there anything new this year that you can tell us about?
Malcolm: Are we allowed to?
Maddi: Well, there’s a flute now … I heard … from someone.
Malcolm: So I’ve done the show for 11 years. For all of those years, violinist Greg Hirte and horn player Justin Amolsch have been two of the four musicians I have been playing with. Andrew Coil, our second violinist, is now in his third year. Greg, who has been doing the show for most of the last 20 years, is performing in ‘Treasure Island’ at Lookingglass Theatre this year. So it’s a pretty big change not to have him here. Andy Hansen, the composer, and Henry Wishcamper, the director, sent me an email this summer saying, ‘We’re thinking about, rather than having a second violinist, we’re thinking about having flute instead.’ And you know, needing someone who’s an excellent flautist, and who is also comfortable on stage as an actor, I immediately thought of Maddi. The only problem was she had just moved to Portland, Oregon.
Maddi: Like, hours before you got that email.
Malcolm: I knew it was something she would at least be interested in considering, so I let her know about it. And we had auditions. After seeing her and the other folks the casting department set up to see, she was the best choice. It ended up working out great for us, but it’s also an interesting dynamic musically because it’s a different instrumentation than we have used before. Andy Hansen has had to rewrite arrangements to take that into account. So far, they’re sounding beautiful, both the arrangements and the way they’re being played.
Maddi: There’s some really good stuff.
Malcolm: There are a couple of big changes. I’m not going to tell you. You have to come see it.
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