If you’re searching for a fast, streamlined adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” you would do well to attend Jacqueline Goldfinger’s 85-minute adaptation currently running at Arlington Heights’ Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. Artistic Director Brendan Ragan’s well-paced, very well cast family-oriented production has plenty to entice.
Music plays a large part in the adaptation, and this ensemble has a set of pipes. There are delightfully pleasing carols sung throughout, and also used to indicate scene changes: everything from “Joy to the World” to “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The orchestra is flawless, conducted by Music Director Ken McMullen. The expressive dances choreographed by Kaity Paschetto range from Victorian step dances to an all-in-white solo ballerina (Emma Grace Bailey) representing Winter.
The story unfolds on a simple, stark stage designed by Mara Ishihara Zinky that gradually becomes the setting for scenes from an English village to Scrooge’s bedroom. It’s imaginatively lit by Levi Wilkins. Both the lighting and era-appropriate costumes designed by Andrés Mota create the mood and tones of the various scenes.
Goldfinger’s adaptation maintains the major necessary Dickens scenes and themes, and many well-known characters are still present with Scrooge: the charity ladies, Fezziwig and the three spirits. Scrooge’s genial nephew Fred, wonderfully and consistently portrayed by the very elegant and expressive actor Gabriel Fries, gets a much larger part than Bob Cratchit. The part of Cratchit has been reduced significantly, which is a shame, as the talented Andrew Bosworth looks and acts the part and is a natural charmer onstage. The character of Scrooge’s sister is nonexistent; Belle, Mrs. Cratchit and even Tiny Tim have minimized roles in this adaptation.
But Jacob Marley gets an especially sinister and unnerving scene with Scrooge. With plenty of lines and special effects, Peter Gertas is a phenomenal Marley.
The engaging and cleverly funny use of six storytellers (Tony Calzaretta, Lizzie Williams, Dreaa Kay Baudy, Peter Gertas, Zoya Martin and Gabriel Fries) furthers the plot, gives details and eliminates a lot of action. All six are vocally seductive.
Crystal Lake native Steve Connell returns as Ebenezer Scrooge. No argument here – Connell IS Scrooge. Physically, he’s tall, angular, silver-haired and grizzled – a distinguished actor. He’s consistently articulate with crisp pronunciation; Connell’s face and voice are expressive registers of every emotion from pensiveness to contempt to glee. He is also the master of activity as he jigs, skips, tumbles, jumps and rolls. You don’t like Connell’s Scrooge in the beginning, but you’ll love him by the end.
As for the three spirits, those heralds of Scrooge’s supernatural adventure, Zoya Martin is a graceful, ethereal Ghost of Christmas Past; she calmly and sadly watches as Scrooge’s memories become painful. Josh Frink is the Ghost of Christmas Present; Frink is a little less ominous of size and boisterous personality in comparison to other productions’ Father Christmas, but is still jubilant and majestic. And Michael J. Santos’ incredible Ghost of Christmas Future sent a little boy in front of me into his mother’s arms. These three spirits’ visits definitely show Scrooge what his greed has cost.
The supportive ensemble was enthusiastic and energetic in their multiple roles, and deserve much applause: Maura Fawley, Olivia Zak, Mason Wang, Carter Rose Sherman, Amanda Donahoe, Spencer Schillinger, Ben Brown, Layla Joan, Natalie Lopez, Lucian Gutfraynd, Eli Vander Griend, Jonah Harder, Holly Beemer and Beck Damron.
What struck me was how the audience responded to the show. “A Christmas Carol” is a story we all know, inside and out, but there were still sighs, gasps and a tear or two. The Metropolis is offering an opportunity to view a fresh version of a classic that has never been out of print since 1843, and that everyone from Alastair Sim to The Muppets has performed. There has to be a reason why.
(Show runs 85 minutes with no intermission. Visual and auditory elements include theatrical haze, dry ice fog, strobe lights. American Sign Language-interpreted performance offered at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7.)
• Regina Belt-Daniels has been in love with the theater since the first grade. She has appeared onstage and backstage in many capacities ranging from performer to director; she most recently directed Elgin Theatre Company’s “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “A Christmas Carol”
WHERE: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights
WHEN: Through Dec. 24
COST: $40 for adults, $20 for students, 20% off for groups of eight
INFORMATION: 847-577-2121, metropolisarts.com