This event marked the 6th consecutive year that the Goodman and Make-A-Wish Illinois have brightened the life of child battling a life-threatening medical condition.
In Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come in an effort to change his outlook on the holiday and life in general. It took an extraordinary journey for the wealthy but cynical businessman to come around, but in the end, he did.
A similar effort was not necessary when it come to convincing Scottie Pippen to take part in the Goodman Theatre’s 35th annual production of the timeless classic, especially given it involved sharing the stage with a Make-A-Wish child.
“I’ve worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation many times over the years, so when I was contacted about being in A Christmas Carol with someone who had a wish, it was an easy decision,” said Pippen.
For the last six years, Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and Make-A-Wish Illinois have joined forces to brighten the life of child battling a life-threatening medical condition by pairing them with a local celebrity. Last year, Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura took part, and in 2010, Chicago Blackhawks ambassador and Hall of Famer Bobby Hull graced the stage with his presence.
This fall, the theatre approached the Bulls to see if Pippen would be interested in following suit and joining seven-year old La’Ren Kimble of Rockford, Ill. in this year’s edition of A Christmas Carol.
“The Goodman Theatre has been bringing in different athletes and celebrities over the year for cameos like mine, so this year was my year,” said Pippen, who serves as Special Advisor to the President & C.O.O. for the Bulls. “To be able to work with La’Ren, a beautiful young lady, was what it was all about for me.”
The process began the week after Thanksgiving, when Pippen first visited the theatre for his wardrobe fitting and more importantly, to meet La’Ren, along with her mother, Alicia Hagie and stepfather, Joseph Quayson.
“I wanted to be on TV,” said La’Ren of her wish. “They couldn’t do that for me, but this is like a bonus round and it’s better. I’m on a stage and I still get to be on camera.”
La’Ren was diagnosed with Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome when she was just three weeks old. That condition led to the existence of a rare kidney cancer called Wilms' tumor. Regular appointments and a proactive approach have paid dividends for La’Ren and as she gets older, the risk of the cancer returning will significantly decrease. Still, life hasn’t always been easy for her with far more trips to the hospital than any child should endure. Though, as Pippen noted, you’d never know after meeting her.
“For someone who has faced so much adversity, she couldn’t be more upbeat and energetic,” said Pippen. “La’Ren is truly inspiring.”
Before leaving the theatre that afternoon, Pippen surprised La’Ren and her family with tickets to that evening’s Bulls game. They happily accepted and enjoyed sitting in the owner’s suite with Bulls President & Chief Operating Officer Michael Reinsdorf.
“It was a great day,” said Pippen. “We spent most of it together with her and her parents. It was a lot of fun for me and I think she had a lot of fun at the game. She got the opportunity to be in an arena where there’s a lot of excitement. There’s no better place than going to the United Center with the entertainment and the fact that there is always something going on during a game.”
La’Ren agreed. And though she didn’t know much about the Bulls before that night—she wasn’t even aware of Benny the Bull’s existence—all of that has changed. As for her favorite part of the evening?
“Seeing the Bulls win,” said La’Ren. “I couldn’t believe how much shouting there was.”
While throughout 17 seasons in the NBA, Pippen performed on several big stages, whether at home at the Chicago Stadium or the United Center, New York’s Madison Square Garden, or the Forum in Los Angeles, on Dec. 14 a different kind of stage awaited.
Pippen’s acting resume is limited to say the least. Aside from various commercials during his playing career and more recently, a quick visit on the Conan O’Brien show during their week of shooting at the Chicago Theater, most of the time he’s been on camera has either been as a player or former player in a setting which surrounded the game of basketball. He joked with La’Ren, an aspiring actress, that she would have to help guide him while on stage.
On the night of the play, Pippen arrived at the Goodman Theatre a little over two hours before the 8 p.m. performance to catch up with La’Ren and her family. The two then sat down for a round of interviews before heading to their dressing rooms to get into their respective wardrobes.
As for their roles, Pippen and La’Ren appeared on stage several times throughout the evening as natives of London, most notably at the end of the play when Christmas morning was celebrated and a Scrooge with a considerable change of heart made his way through the crowd.
Pippen and Kimble donned costumes tailored especially for them and appeared in select scenes of the 35th annual production of a Chicago holiday tradition.
When it came time for their lines, they were ready: “Merry Christmas, Mr. Scrooge!”
While La’Ren had a small cheering section of family and friends in attendance at the sold out performance, Pippen did too, with his wife, Larsa, and his children, Scotty, Preston, Justin and Sophia, as well as his sister, Sherron, on hand for the show.
“The sentimental value behind this is very different that what I accomplished as a player,” said Pippen of the experience. “This has been a lot of fun. I had never even been to a play. You have to adjust to a different kind of audience and how they cheer. It’s definitely not like playing in a sports arena. I was interested to see the different mix.
“To be a part of this with Christmas coming up, plus the Make-A-Wish element, makes it very special,” added Pippen. “As a player, you try to do what you can to be a part of the kids’ lives in the Make-A-Wish events that I’ve done in the past. But this is different than what I’ve done in the past. We’ve really had an opportunity to interact. The weight to perform was on both our shoulders. But we held each other up and it was a lot of fun.”
Photos courtesy of the Goodman Theatre:
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