It’s time for that annual Christmas parable reminding us to be good and kind, the classic Charles Dickens story, “A Christmas Carol.”
Happily, it’s alive and beautifully well at Arlington Heights’ Metropolis Performing Arts Center.
Directed by the talented Kevin Wiczer, this is a captivating and entertaining production of a well-paced, intelligent adaptation by Krista Scott. Truly faithful to Dickens’ 1843 novella, all the themes are subtly there: Redemption, forgiveness, change and family. An energetic ensemble of 22 sings and dances in the aisles and on stage. And that production team is a dream team.
The dialogue and diction are properly English (thank you, dialect coach Saren Nofs Snyder) and Kenneth McMullen’s music and Kara Schoenfofer’s choreography are showcased on Jenna Houck’s streamlined and simply suggestive set. The ghostly quartet is marvelous.
Scrooge’s deceased business partner, the chained and tormented Marley is frighteningly played by Seavor Roach, who also doubles in the role of the beggar and old Joe. The first ghost to visit, The Ghost of Christmas Past, represents the experiences and memories that made Scrooge the callous adult we meet; this time, the portrayal is by two adolescent spirits resplendent in white sparkling outfits, Kylie Sullivan and Ben Miller.
The Ghost of Christmas Present is larger than life – a very jovial, booming Jake Thomas. But the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is an absolutely brilliant projection that moves and shivers on stage; probably the most visually powerful of all the spirits. It’s a nontraditional and exciting idea. The veiled accompanying demons also are very flexible sprites.
Scrooge represents all the values that are the opposite of Christmas: Greed, selfishness and devastating lack of concern for others. Crystal Lake resident Steve Connell, who has performed Scrooge since 1996 throughout Illinois, is the perfect personification of that infamous jaded, miserable miser.
Connell is tall and lanky with silver hair and beard; he’s dismissive, cruel, angry and his transition to the light as a feather, giddy Scrooge is delightful, if not sweet. Connell is an engaging and powerful actor who has mastered the physicality and emotions of his character superbly.
Naturally, there are other laudables. As portrayed in this production by Olivia Tibble, Tiny Tim is tiny and adorable. Laura Smalley’s Mrs. Cratchit is, for once, dimensional and quite spirited, especially in her toast to Scrooge.
J. Michael Wright’s Fred is the most likeable, compassionate and handsome character I’ve seen in a long while. His heartfelt explanation of his uncle registers believably and earnestly. Nate Smith, double cast as Cratchit and Fezziwig, is a pleasant bundle of energy.
It took Charles Dickens just six weeks to write his beloved, “A Christmas Carol,” about the same amount of time spent in rehearsal and production for most theater companies. But it is clearly obvious the Metropolis production spent a lot of time in getting it right. As a theater reviewer, I have seen many productions of “A Christmas Carol.” Far and away, this may be one of my favorites. Follow Scrooge’s suggestion, and “honor Christmas in your heart.” This production will set you on your merry way.
• Regina Belt-Daniels has loved acting since her starring role as Mother Goose in the first grade. She continues to do what she loves best: Act, direct, teach, travel, write theater reviews and serve on theater boards throughout Northern Illinois.