Warm spirits, resonant message make Metropolis' 'Christmas Carol' sing
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"A Christmas Carol" -- ★ ★ ★
When it comes to "A Christmas Carol," one way of measuring a production's impact involves the exchange between the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim that concludes with the familiar benediction: "God bless us, every one."
For a production to succeed, that scene has to resonate emotionally. Even among "Christmas Carol" enthusiasts who make attending Charles Dickens' redemption tale an annual event, the scene ought to bring a tear to the eye or a lump in the throat.
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's adaptation does. In fact, the heartfelt confession by Jerry M. Miller's Ebenezer Scrooge and the subsequent absolution from Kaia Mavradas' cherubic Tiny Tim are among the most affecting moments in director Jennifer Cupani's production.
But what struck me about this version -- adapted by resident playwright Scott Woldman -- was its depiction of father-son relationships.
On the one hand we have Bob Cratchit (Christopher Wren, a genuine, genial everyman), a nurturing father who demonstrates his love for his wife (Amanda Zgonina) and their children. On the other hand, we have the unseen father of Young Ebenezer (Dan O'Hara), who lives by his father's admonishment that "exceptional success is only born of exceptional effort." That persistent warning from a distant father sets Scrooge on the path of self-interest and greed that costs him the love of his life Belle (Lauren Romano) and leaves him haunted and alone, unable to muster even fundamental filial affection for his nephew Fred (the good-humored Maxton Smith).
So, to this time-honored tale about the pursuit of wealth and the disregard for humanity, Cupani and Woldman add another caution, one that highlights the damage an inaccessible, inattentive father can inflict on his child.
Placing the Cratchits front and center, Woldman uses the family to frame the story, which unfolds against Katie Alvord-Wendling's slightly askew scenery flats that reflect the otherworldliness of this 19th-century ghost tale.
We meet Wren's Cratchit as he arrives empty-handed to his hungry family on Christmas Day. Instead of a meal, he treats his wife, Emily, and their children to a ghost story about his miserly employer (the highly capable, nicely blustery Miller) and the three otherworldly visitors he entertained the previous night.
That Cratchit could not possibly know about Scrooge's supernatural encounters is one of several minor shortcomings in Woldman's serviceable script, which features a rushed ending that brings all the characters to the Cratchit house for Scrooge's public reconciliation.
Metropolis' play-with-music features arrangements by music director Micky York. Most are prerecorded, with the exception of the lovely duet between Romano's Belle and O'Hara's young Ebenezer on "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming." Like the rousing "I Saw Three Ships," "Lo" is reprised several times to fine effect.
Mavradas makes a charming Tiny Tim, a role she alternates with Jahnavi Karandikar and Kayden Koshelev. Abigail Ebensberger, Dave Lemrise, Rachel Whyte and David Fink comprise the pleasant-sounding quartet responsible for most of the vocals. And Fink is enjoyable in a cameo as Fred's amorous friend, Topper.
Another quartet deserving mention is made up of four unscrupulous folks who profit from the late Scrooge's personal effects: Quinn Rattan's shop owner Old Joe, Melanie Vitaterna's charwoman, Romano's laundress and Lemrise's undertaker.
That said, some performances reflected a self-consciousness that suggests actors not entirely at ease. And not all the scenes work. The Ghost of Christmas Present's reveal of Ignorance and Want lacks the requisite gravitas. So does the visit from The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, where actors flapping the tails of the spirit's long, black gown undermine the serious mood. The play's most ominous scene demands stillness and silence, which speak volumes about the fate awaiting sinners who fail to repent.
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Location: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 577-2121 or metropolisarts.com
Showtimes: 7 p.m. Friday (and Dec. 27); 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday (and Dec. 26); 3 p.m. Sunday; 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday; through Dec. 27
Running time: One hour, 40 minutes including intermission
Tickets: $15, $30
Parking: Free parking in the adjacent garage and on the street
Rating: For all ages