Nearly 170 years before the phrase "99 percenters" entered the lexicon, Charles Dickens introduced them to readers in the guise of the Cratchits, the impoverished yet deeply devoted family whose fate rests in the hands of Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser who ranked among 19th-century London's wealthiest one percent.
Indeed, one cannot watch Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's production of "A Christmas Carol" without contemplating the 99 percent, whom resident playwright and adapter Scott Woldman spotlights by placing the Cratchit family at the center of director Brad Dunn's pleasantly entertaining production noteworthy for its canny integration of music and drama.
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"A Christmas Carol"★ ★ ★
Location: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 577-2121 or metropolisarts.com
Showtimes: 7 p.m. Friday, 1 and 4 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 24. Also 9:15 and 11:30 a.m. Dec. 7, 14 and 21; 10:30 a.m. Dec. 5, 6, 10, 12, 13, 17, 18 and 20
Running time: About two hours, with intermission
Tickets: $28.50, $15.50 ages 12 and younger
Parking: Free adjacent garage and street parking
Rating: For ages 5 and older. The appearance of Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Future may frighten small children.
David J. Nadolski's engaging and affectionate Bob Cratchit serves as narrator for this morality tale that reminds us how love and community nourish our souls the way wealth and prestige cannot.
The play begins with Bob Cratchit, played by Nadolski with the benign good humor of a TV sitcom patriarch, recalling for his family the supernatural encounters that transformed from miser to benefactor one Ebenezer Scrooge (Joshua K. Harris).
How Cratchit knows about the metamorphosis his employer undergoes in the privacy of his bedroom is one of several unexplained inconsistencies that may pique purists but is tolerable, especially considering all the things this production does well, beginning with the music. Mostly sung by the talented quartet of Shelby Garrett, Amy Malcolm, Christopher Sheard and Chuck Sisson, the music includes the exquisite, recurring "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" and the lively "I Saw Three Ships," the ditty that accompanies a reel performed by guests at the holiday party hosted by Scrooge's nephew Fred (Christopher Davis) and his wife (Amy Rapp).
Designer Michael Wagner's suitably eerie lighting, set designer John W. Holman's sturdy interiors and costume designer Lisa Hale's Dickensian attire help set the mood for the production.
Except for a couple of ensemble members whose outsize performances are incompatible with the generally more subdued acting that characterizes Dunn's kinder, gentler "Carol," the acting is solid.
Harris plays Scrooge with humanity and restraint, although the character comes across as more crotchety than outright cruel, lessening the impact of the character's subsequent conversion.
Rob Frankel delivers a truly chilling turn as the Ghost of Jacob Marley, literally ensnared by the souls of the pitiful poor whose requests for help and mercy he rebuffed during a lifetime spent amassing his wealth.
Jeff Award winner Sisson earns kudos playing multiple roles, most notably the garrulous Ghost of Christmas Present who warns Scrooge explicitly of the devastation brought about by want and ignorance.