‘Tis the season, and KC Rep gets it rolling with a pleasant new production of their holiday chestnut A CHRISTMAS CAROL (now through Dec 26 at the Spencer Theater on the UMKC campus). Break out the eggnog and holly—it’s tradition time.

With Artistic Director Eric Rosen off to Seattle supervising round two of his A CHRISTMAS STORY, staging chores for this year’s winter fete fell to Rep Associate A.D. Kyle Hatley. I thought Hatley did a wonderful job with last season’s BROKEOLOGY at the Copaken Stage downtown; but that was an intimate new play. I missed his big cast DEATH OF CUPID at the KC Fringe Festival this summer. Could Hatley lead sixty plus actors, designers and stagehands into the breach and out the other side, happy patrons and their money in hand? (The Rep counts on A CHRISTMAS CAROL for a big chunk of their annual box office).

I’m happy to report that Hatley brings it off. Introducing a new John Ezell design, replete with LES MIZ-style turntable, Hatley finds a lot more heart in his retelling of the Dickens classic. Gary Neal Johnson’s emotional arc feels more real, more satisfying in the playing. From his chilly reunion with dead partner Jacob Marley (a scary looking Mark Robbins) through the three ghostly visits and his ah ha moment at the story’s end, this Scrooge comes off less cartoon and more flesh, blood and feelings than I remember from past productions. Credit Hatley for making a difference.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a big ensemble effort, but this year’s edition delivers some nice, new star turns. Katie Kalahurka brings a loopy, quirky tone to her Ghost of Christmas Past. I’ve enjoyed her work with George Harter’s Musical Theatre Heritage; this production showed me she has above the title chops beyond just song and dance. Jim Gall, moving from Christmas Past to Present, really dominates the proceedings during his short time on stage. And little Whittaker Hoar has a touching, sweet turn as Tiny Tim (and how about props for his folks, who must be the hardest working parents in show business, schlepping Whit’s brother Zack to the Unicorn for DISTRACTED between Whit’s shows at KC Rep).

I found Walter Coppage a little weak in the knees as the much put-upon Bob Cratchit, though it’s kind of a namby-pamby, thankless part (and why do they keep calling him a clark? He’s a clerk, for gosh sake). Gone is a lot of the choral singing that made A CHRISTMAS CAROL way more musical in the much missed Molly Jessup’s productions past. But these were minor hiccups in an otherwise satisfying effort. As usual, technical efforts were all up to the Rep’s first-rate standards.

With Eric Rosen running to Seattle for A CHRISTMAS STORY and L.A. for VENICE,  his greatest contribution to KC Rep may turn out be introducing Kyle Hatley to our town. I’m looking forward to Kyle’s upcoming CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION this Spring. We’re getting our money’s worth out of this young man; here’s hoping he hangs around.

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