Steve Connell of Crystal Lake looks and sounds the part of the iconic Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. And why not? Connell has played Scrooge since 1996 at theaters throughout the Chicago area, but he does not take the role lightly.
The holiday classic opens next week, Nov. 25, at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights and runs through Dec. 24. Find performance dates and ticket information here.
Rehearsals have been running nearly every day for the last month, and beyond nailing the lines and the layered musical score, production staff members have been working tirelessly to bring 1840s London to life.
Take the “dramaturg,” Linda Scheufler of Arlington Heights. She has done all kinds of research into the life of Dickens and the severe economic conditions in 1840s London that led him to write the play.
“I’ve presented to the cast about the ‘Hungry Forties’ in England, as well as the life of Charles Dickens himself,” says Scheufler, who points to the character of Bob Cratchit as reflecting Dickens’ own father and his mounting debt, “plus all of the social implications of the time.”
She also reviewed a glossary of English words and phrases that cast members might not have known, such as difference between a farthing and a pound, and many more.
Another production member working behind the scenes is Theresa Neumayer of Arlington Heights, who is the show’s property designer. Simply put, she provides the props, but it’s anything but simple. Recreating Victorian England is not as easy, and while she can borrow items from her usual network of sources, she also combs area resale shops — and Google — for such pieces as a messenger bag and a Victorian pencil that Cratchit uses to record transactions.
“I just want to make sure that I hold up my end,” Newmayer says, “with all of this talent up here.”
Other production roles include caring for wigs, makeup, costume and wardrobe, dialect coach, choreographer, stage manager and Music Director Kenny McMillan who returns this year.
New this year is Director Brendan Ragan, Artistic Director at Metropolis, who is bringing Jacqueline Goldfinger’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol to the stage.
“She’s done a marvelous job distilling the novella into a more compact and swift version, so this production will clock in at just 85 minutes, without an intermission,” Ragan says. “Even at that length, it’s still full of magic, heart and music.
“We still get Scrooge’s wonderful arc of moral redemption,” he adds, “and I have no doubt the production will leave folks feeling spirited and joyful for the holiday season.”
What sets this adaptation apart, Ragan says, is that Goldfinger introduces the element of six direct-address storytellers, who use descriptive Dickens prose that usually doesn’t fit into the dialogue of most productions. These storytellers have main roles in the show, but break the fourth wall to tell the story directly to the audience.
“The novella is really quite wry and funny at times, and the storytellers in this version get to embody that,” Ragan says. “It’s still certainly a ghost story, but patrons can expect a fun, fast, and heartwarming version perfect for all ages.”