Performing Arts

KC Rep’s ‘Christmas Carol’ relies on durable ingredients

By ROBERT TRUSSELL

The Kansas City Star

Gary Neal Johnson returns as Ebenezer Scrooge in KC Rep’s annual staging of “A Christmas Carol.”
Gary Neal Johnson returns as Ebenezer Scrooge in KC Rep’s annual staging of “A Christmas Carol.” Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Through the decades I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly in Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”

When it was good, it was very good indeed. When it was bad, it felt tired and formulaic. And when it was ugly, I could feel the strain of creating a “magical” evening with occasionally uncooperative stage trickery.

The current edition, directed by Jerry Genochio, certainly isn’t bad. A core of actors bring this piece to life, just as they have in previous years. Gary Neal Johnson as Scrooge; Charles Fugate as Charles Dickens; Jim Gall as both Mr. Fezziwig and the Ghost of Christmas Present; Katie Kalahurka as the Ghost of Christmas Past; Walter Coppage as Bob Cratchit and Peggy Friesen as Mrs. Fezziwig bring out the script’s human values. No matter how often these players have performed these roles, they bring freshness and spontaneity to the stage.

Genochio and his crew don’t mess too much with what has proven to be a reliable formula, although they have tweaked the show a bit. In an effort to achieve a degree of visual spectacle, Genochio relies on lighting designer Jeffrey Cady, whose projections create some interesting illusions.

In supporting roles, Mark Robbins is impeccable doing double duty as Marley’s Ghost and Old Joe; Rusty Sneary is generally creditable as Fred, Scrooge’s newphew; Jacob Aaron Cullum is memorable as Young Ebenezer; Matthew Rapport is at his comic best as Topper; and Daria LeGrand is a luminous presence as Fan, Scrooge’s childhood sister.

Dawnnie Mercado is flat as Mrs. Cratchit and Nicole Marie Green, who stepped into the role of Belle at the last minute, comports herself adequately even if there’s little to no chemistry between Belle and Young Ebeneezer. Two of the city’s best actors — Cheryl Weaver and Vanessa Severo — have unaccountably been relegated to bit parts.

Tiny Tim this year is played by two young performers who alternate in the role. On opening night the role was handled by Delilah Pellow, who with her tiny stature and delicate voice charmed the audience.

Musical director Anthony Edwards handles the atmospheric music at the keyboards along with violinist Jonathan Schriock. The centerpiece of Act 2 is, of course, ‘O Come All Ye Faithful,’ performed by the entire company with mesmerizing harmonies.

A few years ago the production introduced a character who might be called the Keeper of the Ledger. The program identifies him simply as Solicitor #3. Played by Martin Buchanan (who doubles as the Ghost of Christmas Future), the character appears at various times throughout the show and remains invisible to every character except Scrooge — although sometimes Scrooge can’t see him either.

His function, apparently, is to tally Scrooge’s credits and debits to determine his fate in the afterlife. The character seems a needless distraction whose presence simply states the obvious.

To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com.

“A Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 26 at the Spencer Theatre, 4949 Cherry St., on the UMKC campus. Call 816-235-2700 or go to www.kcrep.org.

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