Missouri Repertory Theatre every year produces A Christmas Carol and
the Kansas City Ballet, The Nutcracker. For years, Kent Barnhart
at the Quality Hill Playhouse has graced us with a third annual Winter
Solstice Kansas City performance tradition, Christmas in Song,
Three singers, Toni Gates-Grantham, Sylvia Stoner and James Andrew
Wright, and one singer/pianist, Barnhart, all clad in formal evening
wear, present two hours of holiday melodies. Occasionally, Barnhart
takes a break from the keyboard and addresses the audience, sharing
humorous stories about his life, his family and his work.
(clockwise) Kent Barnhart, Toni Gates-Grantham,
James Andrew Wright and Slyvia Stoner. (photo
by Larry Levinson)
As usual, Barnhart has chosen expressively skilled
singers and coached them meticulously. He has selected highbrow
music for the concert and created stunning arrangements, giving
the vocalists onstage lush, intricate harmonies. At times the
ensemble sings together with enough focus to resemble one perfectly
tuned musical instrument. The choral sounds swell and fade with
unified precision; notes terminate exactly with beautifully
trained diction. Barnharts arrangements bring original
flair to the traditional holiday songs, and he plays the piano
with generous dexterity.
With Ding Dong, Merrily on High and Good King
Wenceslas, he brought together two songs, allowing the
melodies to compliment each other in a contrapuntal dance of
Barnhart speaks with familiarity and demonstrates expertise
with the delivery of a gag. He works the crowd well and utters
most of his monologues with his tongue in his cheek, shooting
playful barbs at the other performers or wryly relaying anecdotes
about his own performances in the more rural segments of Missouri
He announces early in the show that theyll be singing
Ave Maria in Latin and Stille Nacht
in German. Not exactly the music I grew up with,
he adds, This is not a Hee Haw Christmas.
Barnhart makes clear Quality Hill Playhouses commitment
to serious music. This bent made for a languid evening; most
of the songs are slow. Barnhart chose a small handful of brighter
numbers, We Need a Little Christmas from Mame
and Deck the Halls for example, but he filled the
majority of the show with ballad after smarmy ballad.
In addition, Christmas in Song weighs very heavy with
sacred music. Barnhart imparts that Act I will contain the religious
repertoire and Act II, the secular. But with Pie Jesu
and More Than Wonderful (a gospel number) both in
Act II, the show offers a wholesome helping of Jesus. Listening
to Stoner sing both Ave Maria and O Holy Night
in Act I resembles a meal made entirely of meat dishes and no
dessert, a musical rendition of the Atkins Diet.
Sadly lacking are any Christmas songs about love. Barnhart presents
a world that includes Santa, the baby Jesus and the Virgin Mother,
but we never hear about what happens under the mistletoe. Perhaps
this resulted from Barnharts aversion to campy, silly,
rural holiday choices; but a vast selection of quality composition,
left out of Christmas in Song, expresses romantic love
at Yuletide: Let it Snow, Baby, Its
Cold Outside or Ive Got my Love to Keep me
In Winter Wonderland, a couple romantically strolls
through a frozen, glistening meadow. The ensemble does sing
the comic The Twelve Days After Christmas, about
lovers who, after a quarrel, destroy each of the twelve gifts.
Ironically, Barnhart shows lovers fighting at Christmas but
avoids snuggling by the fireside.
Christmas in Song runs through Dec. 28 at the Quality
Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St. Tickets are $22 each with discounts
for students and seniors, call 816-421-1700.
If Christmas belongs to children,
the current production at Theatre for Young America, The
Best Christmas Pageant Ever, belongs in a holiday theatre
listing. With seventeen kids and four adults in the cast, this
enactment of Barbara Robinsons book gives the stage to
Grace (Teri Adams) gets coerced to direct the annual church
Christmas pageant, an extravaganza depicting the nativity with
the congregations children as performers. A family of
thugs, the Herdman kids, having never stepped foot into the
church before, decide to audition for roles in the pageant,
and they use intimidating tactics to land the choice roles.
Most of the play revolves around Grace frantically piecing together
a daunting production with an unruly cast of youngsters. (One
wonders if director Evan Gamsu faced similar obstacles in staging
the play itself; art reflects life.) The Herdmans, particularly
Imogene, the oldest daughter as Mary (Ellen Pagor), eventually
come to catch a spiritual glimpse of the true Christmas mysteries.
We hear about the Herdmans frightening reputation before
we see them onstage. They first appear in a threatening tableau
humorously accompanied by the two deep, percussive, metallic
sounds used in the television drama Law and Order.
All of the kids in the piece play their parts with energetic
vigor. Adams doesnt always match their power, but it works
seeing this placid housewife helplessly deal with the chaotic
youth. Once Adams as Grace loses her temper, she carries the
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever runs until Dec. 21 at
Theatre for Young America, 5909 Johnson Dr, in Mission. Tickets
are $6.50 per person with group rates available for parties
over 10. Call 913-831-2131.
David Ollington can be contacted at Ollington@aol.com or publisher_editEKC@kcactive.com.