Metropolis' 'Christmas Carol' reminds audiences that Dickens' holiday classic is a ghost story at heart

“A Christmas Carol” — ★ ★ ★

For his Metropolis Performing Arts Centre directorial debut, artistic director Brendan Ragan choose “A Christmas Carol,” a longtime tradition at the Arlington Heights theater.

Helming Jacqueline Goldfinger's adaptation of Charles Dickens' tale (which is accompanied by holiday tunes) is a savvy move by Ragan, who took over the artistic leadership in April. “A Christmas Carol” is a popular show (several weekend performances are nearly sold out). As such, it's a good way for a new AD to introduce himself, especially one who has a penchant for new works.

Ragan's solidly entertaining production has a spectral sensibility that reminds us Dickens' redemption tale is fundamentally a ghost story. And a scary one at that thanks in part to admirable work by designers Levi Wilkins and Daniel Etti-Williams.

Wilkins' shadowy lighting and Etti-Williams' wonderfully chilling sound design, coupled with Mara Ishihara Zinky's foreboding backdrop, set the mood for this cautionary tale about Ebenezer Scrooge (Steve Connell), who reclaims his humanity after three spirits show him the folly of his miserly ways.

The production, which features a hearty ensemble of singer/actors, opens with a droll bit of exposition from an effusive sextet of storytellers. Tony Calzaretta, Lizzie Williams, Dreaa Kay Baudy, Peter Gertas, Zoya Martin and Gabriel Fries narrate the story and play supporting roles.

Calzaretta and Baudy play the jolly, generous Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig. Fries is the essence of cordiality and compassion as Fred, Scrooge's nephew whose repeated efforts to establish a connection with his uncle are rebuffed. Martin, Josh Frink and Michael J. Santos play the ghosts of Past, Present and Future, respectively. Peter Gertas' standout performance as the Ghost of Jacob Marley is truly menacing. (In fact, his scenes, along with those involving Michael J. Santos' Ghost of Christmas Future, may frighten younger theatergoers.)

Andrew Bosworth's performance as Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's ill-treated assistant, initially struck me as insufficiently meek and a bit glib. Cratchit wouldn't dare even a slight smirk at Scrooge, even when his back is turned. Far more appropriate is Bosworth's nicely muted eulogy to his son, Tiny Tim (Ben Brown, who alternates in the role with Spencer Schillinger).

Ragan's “Carol” also include an otherworldly character named Winter. Played by the graceful Emma Grace Bailey, Winter is a ghost-spirit hybrid whose dancing serves as a transition between scenes and a distraction from set changes. A delicate addition to a faithful revival, it suggests Metropolis' new leader intends to surprise audiences. Here's to what comes next.

• • •

Location: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 577-2121,

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 24. 10 a.m. student matinees on Dec. 14 and 21

Running time: About 85 minutes, no intermission

Tickets: $22, $44

Parking: Nearby garage and street parking

Rating: For most audiences; some scenes may frighten youngsters

Steve Connell is Ebenezer Scrooge in Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's "A Christmas Carol." Courtesy of Jennifer Heim, Jennifer Heim Photography
Jacob Marley (Peter Gertas) terrorizes his former partner Ebenezer Scrooge (Steve Connell) in Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's "A Christmas Carol," directed by new artistic director Brendan Ragan. Courtesy of Jennifer Heim, Jennifer Heim Photography
Bob Cratchit (Andrew Bosworth) mourns his young son in Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's production of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Courtesy of Jennifer Heim, Jennifer Heim Photography
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