KC Rep re-formats Dickens classic Christmas story with fresh look

Christmas season officially opens right after Thanksgiving with the opening of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the well known story of Ebenezer Scrooge encountering phantoms who turn his heart of stone into the year-round heart of impassioned goodness and giving to mankind.

After all these years, poor old Scrooge finds himself on Christmas Eve miserable, miserly, and misinformed about the joy of Christmas. Thankfully, the story remains a holiday classic and Ebenezer is frozen in time in Dickens’ most famous book. While the story remains in tack, some liberties are taken as the KC Rep tries new approaches to tell parts of the story and re-casts some of the roles to keep the story fresh and actors challenged.

As expected, “A Christmas Carol” unites many of Kansas City’s best actors in a sumptuous production that would rival any Broadway production. Give credit to artistic director of the Rep, Eric Rosen, and to the production director, Jerry Genochio who create this lavish, rich production.

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Two of the main character changes this season involved the characters of Charles Dickens, the narrator of Scrooge’s story, and the inclusion of Victor Raider Wexler as the ghost of Jacob Marley. Dickens, this year is portrayed by Mark Robbins and he bring an older Charles Dickens in contrast to a younger more spry from recent years. The characterization seems to fit better with Scrooge’s age and the author who is generally pictured as an older man. Raider Wexler created a more dense character with his portrayal of Marley’s ghost. His scene with Scrooge (Gary Neal Johnson) positively sets the tone for the play. The scene is scary, passionate, and caring. The character cements the fact that Scrooge must change or his fate looms as worse than Marley’s.

Those changes set a new depth and richness to the production. The scene with Marley and Scrooge bring two local favorites into conflict in a reviling confrontation. Johnson and Raider Wexler command the stage and their scene provides the crux of the play to follow. Watching them work together is worth the admission price.

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Children will be aghast at the Spirit of Christmas Present. Expect their eyes to be glued on him as Act II opens. In Rusty Sneary’s characterization, everyone will enjoy the jolly spirit and larger-than-life character. Sneary brings the audience inside the show as he promenades through the auditorium with his special “fairy dust” of Christmas joy.

The one re-crafting that strays from the original is the characterization of Christmas past. This year, more than one spirit appears and leads Scrooge through his turbulent past which helps explain the hardening of his heart. As said in The Bible, “The love of money is the root of all evil,” and in Scrooge’s case, money replaced any love and compassion. It brought him the security he never knew as a child or young man. While the idea of Ebenezer’s past explains his journey, the use of multiple spirits diestocks from the message and theme.

Overall, KC Rep’s version of “A Christmas Carol” continues to wow patrons. This marks the 36th year of the production that continues to evolve annually. The sumptuous production should become a family tradition, like watching the old movie versions and remakes of this classic story. By far, the most celebrated movie version stars the remarkable Alister Sims as Scrooge, and his performance can still elicit tears when he awakes and discovers the joy of the season. While that is the classic film version, KC Rep’s production surpasses that with its live version, performance richness, and strong portrayals throughout the cast led by Gary Neal Johnson, as Ebenezer.

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In addition to the return of Gary Neal Johnson as Ebenezer Scrooge, our cast is comprised of: Connor Branson (Albert Hall, 2nd Young Man), Martin Buchanan (Ghost of Christmas Future, Solicitor 3), Walter Coppage (Fezziwig), Sam Cordes (Ghost of Christmas (?) Past, Bobby, Poulterer), Scott Cordes (Old Joe), Jacob Aaron Cullum (Young Ebenezer), Bree Elrod (Mrs. Crachit), Peggy Friesen (Mrs. Fezziwig, Harp), Daria LeGrand (Laundress), Seth Macchi (Fred), Merle Moores (Ghost of Christmas Past, Solicitor 2), Andy Perkins (Bob Cratchit), Victor RaiderWexler (Marley), Mark Robbins (Dickens), Shon Ruffin (Auntie Fezzie, Giggly Sister), Jonathan Schriock (Violin), Vanessa Severo (Mrs. Fred), Emily Shackelford (Belle, Soprano), Rusty Sneary (Ghost of Christmas Present, Solicitor 1), Bradley Thomas (Dick Wilkins, 1st Young Man, Undertaker), Nick Uthoff (Bed, Bass, Associate 2), Cheryl Weaver (Charwoman), Woods (Fan), Donovan Woods (Topper, Associate 1), and Dianne Yvette (Ghost of Christmas (?) Past, Serious Sister). Tiny Tim will be played by Dominic Adams and Finnegan Jones.

Charles Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol” continues in Spencer Theater on the UMKC campus. For tickets, times, dates, and prices and more information, check out the KC Rep website. “A Christmas Carol runs through Dec. 24.

Tags:  Theater, Performing Arts, Arts & Entertainment, KC Rep, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Spencer Hall, UMKC, “A Christmas Carol”, Kansas City, Kansas City Theater, Christmas, Kansas City Nightlife

Images courtesy of Corey Weaver and courtesy of KC Rep and Corey Weaver and courtesy of KC Re

Author: Bob Evans

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