Why hello old friend, you’ve been away a year and my you’ve changed. The story remains the same but your different and for the better. The Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s 30th Anniversary staging of the, I feel it’s safe to call it, Kansas City institution after three decades, will feel familiar to those that have attend it in the past. Though it offers enough new to warrant a revisit for those that feel it had become tired and bored by too much sentimentality by way of the same old, same old over the last several years. I guess you could nearly call it a remix of an old classic? Faithful to the original, with enough new sprinkled in to keep the proceedings fresh and new.
I think it’s safe to assume that almost every one is familiar with the Dickens’ story about Ebenezer Scrooge. That would be the one by Charles Dickens in which Scrooge is visited by four ghosts. I’ll cover elements of the story later since the first thing that many have been asking about, myself included, were the changes to the production. Having attended several previous productions of A Christmas Carol at the Rep as part of a standing holiday tradition with friends and family I was anticipating the much advertised changes. The biggest most dramatic change you notice upon entering the Spencer Theatre is the set. Looking vaguely familiar though new at the same time, was it the year off that clouded one’s memory of it? You find out quickly that a year off hasn’t clouded your memory as the changes assert themselves quickly. The less obvious changes come by way of direction handled by the Rep’s associate artistic director Kyle Hatley. Hatley uses the new set to add both subtle and more obvious welcome changes to the presentation of the story. Outside of the set nothing too radical has changed, change after all isn’t always good if not necessary and I don’t want to spoil all the surprises. However I feel that the tweaks and changes the Reps creative department, a co-production with UMKC have brought to this show are worthy additions and not changes just for the sake of change. I liked some of the more subtle and bigger changes to this production of A Christmas Carol.
For you hardcore traditionalist of the Rep’s production you can be rest-assured that Gary Neal Johnson has returned to the role of Scrooge. I’m sure Mr Johnson’s finely honed performance of the role could be done in his sleep being his ninth appearance as the Ebenezer. Thankfully his turn as Scrooge is as good as it ever was. Further Jim Gall is back bigger than ever, and was in rare form opening night with an always fun 4th wall shattering rendition of the Ghost of Christmas present.
A Christmas Carol has always been a bit of an enigma to me in-respect-to how dark the material can be. This is a story, about Christmas in which two four ghost/specters torment a man with his own memories. To those that may or may not recall the last time the Rep staged Dicken’s classic in artistic director Eric Rosen’s first season at the rep, the show seemed to turn a bit more toward the darker aspects of the story. It wasn’t so frightening as to scare kids but Jacob Marley, a spooky Mark Robbins in this production certainly made his mark. In this refreshed production I would say the same darker, edgier, and fearless version remains here. Further I feel that Marley’s visit is more faithful to the source material in this staging than it had been in the past. This is thanks to the changes and updates that this production has received.
A Christmas Carol is a timeless tale and interestingly different elements of it feel more relevant now than they have in the past. The story has many facets that are always applicable, the importance of family, social awareness, and of course Christmas itself which seems to awaken thoughts of these themes in many. With our current economic times in which spiraling debt, and those after material idols in the constant game of keeping up with the Jones and this production seems to put a finer focus on the themes of having enough. Interestingly enough after thirty years one would think that all would have had enough of the 160 year old tale that is A Christmas Carol. Thanks to The Rep’s refreshed production however these themes seem as relevant now as they were 160 years ago.
I give A Christmas Carol at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre 4 “ghosts of Christmas” out of 5
By John Coovert