Its mainstage productions and traveling performers have made it a regional attraction, but it’s all the other assets – including a school – that keep this venue tightly knit with Arlington Heights.
In the rich tapestry of community life, few establishments create connections and enrich lives like performing arts centers. These cultural sanctuaries showcase the creativity of artistic expression, breathe vitality into local economies and serve as social nuclei where individuals converge, forge connections and engage in meaningful discussions.
Here in the northwest suburbs, Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., in Arlington Heights, stands as a beacon of creativity and connection, offering performances that promise to inspire, entertain and unite the community.
“I like to say Metropolis is the beating cultural heart of Arlington Heights and the northwest suburbs,” says Brendan Ragan, artistic director. “We don’t just put on a couple of good shows – we provide an outlet where people can gather around the community fire pit.”
With an intimate 329-seat theater that draws people from around northwest Cook County and beyond, Metropolis has much to offer this region. Its lineup represents a trifecta of talent: mainstage productions developed in-house, traveling performers, and a school that educates students and adults alike.
Since the venue opened in 2000 in downtown Arlington Heights, its stage has hosted such classic productions as “A Christmas Carol” and “The Addams Family” in addition to national touring acts such as Scottish Celtic rock band Skerryvore and American folk/pop music group The Kingston Trio.
The immense talent under this umbrella also supports the Metropolis School of Performing Arts, located on the second floor of Metropolis’ four-story complex. The school annually educates more than 2,500 people, from children through seniors, in the form of group classes, individual lessons, camps, workshops and actual stage productions.
“It’s one thing to give people a reason to get together, share space and have collective experiences, but it’s even more important to give kids access to the arts at an early age and bring in members of the community for whom theater is not their preferred live entertainment,” says Ragan. “Some people want to see an Eagles tribute band and drink a beer, so we want to make space for those folks, as well.”
Metropolis even extends its reach through community programs like Flourish in the Footlights, Acting Through Life and Clearbrook on Cue, which specifically engage seniors, artists with disabilities and individuals with special needs.
“These communities and demographics are getting to experience what it’s like to be a performer and artist in a professional venue,” says Ragan. “That’s important because it’s access to the arts that doesn’t have to do with either buying a ticket to a show or being a professional artist.”
While the school keeps the community coming in on a nearly daily basis, Metropolis’ main auditorium also attracts patrons to a busy lineup of impressive talents.
Its beloved Main Stage program, which typically stages three to five shows a year, kicks off this latest season with a perennial favorite: “A Christmas Carol.” The adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, running Nov. 25-Dec. 24, is appropriate for anyone over the age of 5. This show has become an annual tradition and a cornerstone of the Main Stage season, Ragan says.
Next up, February ushers in a collaboration between Metropolis’ professionals and its school of the performing arts with “Meredith Wilson’s ‘The Music Man’ in Concert.” The production, which runs Feb. 2-11, features a 22-piece orchestra and a 20-person ensemble that includes Metropolis students.
“That’s going to be exciting because ‘The Music Man’ is part of that classical golden age of musicals, and it’s arranged here as a staged reading as well,” says Ragan. “It’s not going to have the staging and costumes that a full production will have, but you’ll get the storytelling and all of the great numbers with this huge orchestra, so that will be a lot of fun.”
As spring blooms, Metropolis presents Dolly Parton’s hit musical “9 to 5,” from May 2-26 before closing the season with the hit jukebox musical “Million Dollar Quartet,” July 11 through Aug 4. Based on a true story, this musical extravaganza transports audiences back to a recording session where icons Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash shared the same room.
As an extra bonus this year, the Main Stage Series presents the dynamic duo of Michael and Angela Ingersoll, from Feb. 23 through March 3. Their “Hooked on a Feeling” tickles all of those romantic feelings with hits like Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” and Olivia Newton-John’s “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”
In between Metropolis’ Main Stage shows, a wide variety of traveling performers arrive to delight audiences. The Christmas season includes “A Bing Crosby Christmas” featuring music of The Andrews Sisters, Celtic Angels Christmas and the uproarious comedy of Chicago’s Second City in “What the Elf?” This holiday extravaganza brings Second City’s signature style from Dec. 18 through Dec. 31.
The new year brings tributes to Broadway star Bernadette Peters on Jan. 11 and Billy Joel on Jan. 12 before Frank Ferrante resurrects vaudeville’s Groucho Marx in 90 minutes of fast-paced comedy. Creole Stomp arrives on Feb. 13 with another high-energy show, this one full of Creole fiddling and a signature Cajun-zydeco sound. A month later, Paddy Homan & The Noble Call celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and traditional Irish tunes on March 17.
Patrons of Metropolis might first come for the shows and the school, but they like to stay for the other attractions housed inside. Located off the first-floor entrance, Mago Grill & Cantina tempts with flavors of Mexican cuisine, all inspired by a chef’s family recipes and a childhood spent in Mexico.
Up on the third floor, Arlington Ale House provides a cozy spot for socializing around the bar, roof-top patio, multiple TVs, pinball machines and billiards tables. There’s also Hey Nonny, a piano bar and music venue with multiple seating options in an intimate setting where the music plays almost daily.
The past four years have brought a stream of challenges to the theatrical world, and Metropolis hasn’t been immune. Through the end of 2023, the venue’s Secure Our Future campaign is aiming to raise at least $571,000, supported by a $300,000 matching contribution.
With these funds, Ragan expects Metropolis will revitalize its commitment to outstanding talent and strengthen its ability to provide entertainment well into the future.
“That’s going to open a lot of doors for us in terms of being able to pay artists, and that’s where I want to be,” says Ragan. “I want to be paying artists living wages and hiring the best talent in the region.”
Ragan has been focused on the future in many ways since his arrival at Metropolis in April 2023. He’s introducing elements such as scenic projections and giving the auditorium a refresh as its red-brick wings are painted black.
He expects such improvements will keep Metropolis thriving as a local gem and as a destination for exceptional artistry and patrons who come well beyond the Arlington Heights area.
“I want what we’re doing here to be so special that we burst out of that 15-mile bubble because people know that it’s worth coming out here to see a show,” says Ragan. “I want Metropolis to be a place where artists can’t wait to work, because when you have that attraction, it’s going to pay off in your shows and your community is going to win.”