Theater Review

Quality Hill offers retrospective of favorite tunes from annual ‘Christmas in Song’

Updated: 2013-11-24T03:59:16Z

By DIANA REESE

Special to The Star

The weather outside Friday was frightful, but inside Quality Hill Playhouse the music was delightful in “Christmas in Song,” a mix of holiday favorites and rarely heard treasures that ranged from the sacred to the secular, from traditional to pop.

In keeping with this year’s theme of “The Best of Quality Hill Playhouse,” celebrating founder and executive director J. Kent Barnhart’s 25 years as a theatrical producer, all of the songs in this year’s holiday show have been performed at least once in the theater’s history.

The creative arrangements gave a fresh feel to the standards “Away in the Manger,” “Silent Night” and “Little Town of Bethlehem” in the haunting “Manger Medley,” and evoked the mystery of that long-ago first Christmas night. It was my personal favorite in a show full of potential favorites.

That was followed with the perennial “White Christmas,” this time in an arrangement Barnhart did for the first show ever at the Playhouse, an Irving Berlin revue, that reflected the longing to be home for the holidays.

Linnaia McKenzie made her stunning solo debut at the Playhouse with the emotion-packed “Grown-Up Christmas List.” Lindsey McKee had the unenviable position of following McKenzie (could we have two singers with more similar names?) but did it with humor — and an impressive feat of memorization — with the witty “Place Settings” about the problems confronting the holiday hostess, earning the audience’s laughter.

Cary Mock, who’s not only an accomplished singer and actor but also pianist, joined forces with Barnhart to pound out a lively and dramatic piano duet of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.”

Barnhart gave each performer a chance to share some Christmas memories and thoughts during a quartet of songs with the theme of family: McKenzie promised “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” while Mock, a father of five was a natural to croon “Christmas Lullaby” in his smooth baritone. London-born McKee was heartfelt with the poignant “God Bless My Family” and Barnhart went just a little bit country with “Til the Season Comes ‘Round Again.”

Barnhart concluded the first act with a show-stopping piano solo of Charles Lindberg’s arrangement of “Jingle Bells” that ranged from ragtime to boogie woogie.

McKenzie opened the second act with a soul-stirring gospel version of “Mary Had a Baby,” followed by all four performers harmonizing on the finger-snapping “Jamaican Noel.”

As usual, Barnhart coaxed flawless harmonies out of his singers. All four joined together for “Breath of Heaven,” a song from Mary’s point of view that’s nothing short of exquisite.

Barnhart included songs providing new perspectives on Christmas. In “Joseph’s Song,” Mock tenderly lamented how a simple carpenter could be expected to raise the son of God. McKee’s beautiful soprano voice expressed wide-eyed wonder and joy in “Mary Let Me Hold Her Baby.” Barnhart, at first the cynic, concluded, “There was something magic in the air” in “The Shepherd,” a sentiment that could sum up the evening’s show. McKenzie belted out a rousing rendition of the often-played “Mary, Did You Know?”

Again, McKee had to follow McKenzie’s show-stopper, but she filled the house with her operatic soprano on the classic “O Holy Night.” The show’s penultimate number,“More Than Wonderful,” isn’t your usual Christmas song, but McKenzie and Mock’s duet explained why the holiday matters.

The show concluded with the foot-tapping spiritual, “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” and a standing ovation.

“Christmas in Song” captures the magic and the joy of the season with fresh takes on old favorites and new songs that surprise like unexpected gifts.

More information

“Christmas in Song” runs through Dec. 24 at Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St. For more informaion, call 816-421-1700 or go to QualiityHillPlayhouse.com.

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