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'A Spectacular Christmas' warms holiday mood with music, story blending

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A Spectacular Christmas

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Ring in the joy of the holiday season with the newest production at Musical Theatre Heritage and their Christmas show, A Spectacular Christmas, that previewed to a standing ovation and runs through Dec. 22 at the Off Center Theatre in Crown Center.

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Expect a unique blend of heartwarming stories, upbeat holiday melodies, traditional Christmas carols, fantastic piano accompaniment, a quartet of younger voices, and, of course, a beautifully blended quartet of Kansas City’s finest adult vocalists to entertain the family in a two-hour musical variety show. And, yes, even Old Saint Nick makes his appearance.

Musical director Sarah Crawfod selected, assembled, and created a splendid cast for A Spectacular Christmas. To guarantee a top-notch production, they combined the talents of Lauren Braton, Justin McCoy, Stefanie Wienecke, and Bryan LaFave to deliver the Christmas gift of song. But no music would be complete without the outstanding keyboard artistry of Jeremy Watson, who also took on the added job of bass player for one song and vocal participant in others.

As for the talented younger cast-mates, along for the ride are: Maggie Marx, Brendan Hulla, Willa Hope Walberg, and Jordan Haas. Each performed wonderful vocals and readings to entertain the audience. Watch for their names as they continue to develop.

And, for the stories that cemented the piece together, well-established Kansas City characters actors, Marilyn Lynch and Richard Alan Nichols read stories that touched hearts and drew upon reflections of everyone’s Christmases past. Lynch read a self-written story of her own Irish-American Christmas dinner, and Nichols read a George Harter piece about fond memories and growing up in the 1950s-60s. Each brought smiles, reminiscences, and thoughtfulness to A Spectacular Christmas.

One of the young performers, Brendan Hulla, read a beautiful, Kansas City-based piece, A Bicycle for Julio Gonzalez, that talked of the Argentine area, the Santa Fe Railroad Yard, Minnesota Avenue stores, and Ruby. The reading was guaranteed to bring tears to some–especially those who grew up in the 1950s.

With such talented voices, they all blended together on many songs, but each had a chance to stand out individually as they all had a solo or lead on individual songs for the show. Lauren Braton used her best soprano notes for “Count You Blessings,” and then later her equally beautiful low register on White Christmas. Justin McCoy cut loose with a rocking-jazzy version of Jingle Bell Swing. Bryan LaFave showed his vocal expertise with “ A Place Called Home.” And, not to be outdone, Stefanie Weinecke accompanied herself on a sexy, version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Along with their featured songs, the ensemble combined for “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “White Christmas,” “Swinging with Santa,” a caroling medley, “Dark is the Silent Night,” “Rudolf Jazz,” “Carol of the Bells,” and more. McCoy let his superb bass deliver a powerful rendition of “Silent Night.” And the girls took us to Jamaica for a Calypso, Harry Bellafonte song, “Mary’s Little Boy Child,” as Jeremy Watson played the Calypso keyboards while McCoy tapped the bongos, and LaFave added rhythm sticks.

Not to be upstaged, the young quartet performed with the adults on several pieces including the caroling medley with Jordan Haas providing a nice boy soprano to “What Child Is This.” Maggie Marx sang two leads on “Why Couldn’t It Be Christmas Every Day,” and “We Are Not Alone.” Willa Hope Walberg, sang “Counting Down to Christmas” and introduced Act II. Brendan Hulla sang mostly in the quartet numbers and read one of George Harter’s stories for the performance.

Anyone familiar with MTH knows the keyboard skills of Jeremy Watson. He’s one of the signature ivory-ticklers in the metro area. Watson displayed his vast keyboarding skills on “Nutcracker,” and “Linus & Lucy,” while adding necessary rhythm and accompaniment throughout the evening.

For an entire two hours, patrons enjoy a reflective look at Christmas now and through the years. The variety show of stories, carols, jazz, solos, duets, quartets and more bring happiness to all in attendance. Expect to be entertained. This cast delivers the goods.

A Spectacular Christmas is just that. It delights the child in everyone, presents wonderful and loved music, gives a variety of music and stories to lighten everyone’s mood, and swells to a rousing ending that beings the audience to their feet.

Take your earplugs if loud clapping bothers you because each and every piece elicits a thunderstorm of applause. And, if you need a healthy dose of Christmas spirit, by all means run to the telephone or computer and secure tickets. They will be at a premium as the season progresses.

For tickets and information, visit their website: musicaltheaterheritage.com. Individual tickets for the current show are now available. Season tickets for the next season may now be purchased

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