More than 600,000 audience members in the Kansas City area have enjoyed Charles Dickens' literary classic performed by the Kansas City Repertory Theatre since the Rep began producing the holiday favorite in 1981. Fans of the show never seem to get tired of watching seasoned cast members (some who have been performing their roles for decades) portray some of the most over-the-top, larger-than-life characters who ever graced a stage: Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley, Fezziwig, and of course, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.
Kyle Hatley took over the direction of the timeless show in 2010 and gave it new vigor with the addition of eye-popping special effects, to make the ultimate redemption story also a sometimes-eerie ghost story. The theming of the sets, particularly in the case of scenic designer John Ezell's rotating stage, is so gloriously presented that even the most hardened critic might find himself with a lump in his throat and a tear in his eye.
Gary Neal Johnson probably mumbles the lines of every cast member in the play in his sleep year-round by now, having performed the role of Scrooge so many times that he deserves to be canonized by the Charles Dickens Museum in London. Yet his performance is always fresh as a firecracker, as if he just woke up that very morning as the surly curmudgeon he portrays. He always gives such depth to the role that he embodies the very spirit of that cranky old miser, and his transformation during the show is a perpetual delight. He sizzles as the newly-enlightened Scrooge with such exuberance that you fear his heart, grown ten sizes bigger, is about to burst right out of his ribcage.
The supporting cast--including Walter Coppage as Bob Cratchit, Cheryl Weaver as Mrs. Cratchit, Jim Gall as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Rusty Sneary as Fred (and also Scrooge as a young man)--is superb. It always strikes me, when watching this production from year to year, how much joy each cast member seems to derive from taking part in the show. There are no perfunctory performances here. Everyone seems to take great satisfaction in their roles, and the result is an added sheen to the antics onstage that only enhances the quality of the drama.