BWW Review: CHRISTMAS IN SONG at Quality Hill Playhouse
J Kent Barnhart and the Quality Hill Playhouse present "Christmas in Song".
- Hill Playhouse ushers in the holidays with a celebration of the American Songbook of Christmas music. This show is a throw back to the days when the family would gather around and sing a few carols or play a few tunes on the piano - the kind of stuff that memories are made of. Directed by baritone J. Kent Barnhart, who also sits masterfully at the piano, are the dreamy voiced tenor Joseph Carr, the lovely and brilliant soprano Sarah Labarr, and the mezzo phenom LaTeesha McDonald Jackson. The blend of this group in tight harmony exudes the cozy warmth of sitting by the fire, and the execution of the first few traditional numbers will soften the staid hearts of the most hardened collegiate music scholars.
"Christmas in Song" mixes classical and contemporary as well as sacred and secular like sparkling ornaments on the Christmas tree. Presented in an intimate cabaret that allows the purity of the voices to come through clearly with a piano that compliments and guides. There are some definite standout numbers, but everything comes together like the working of a jigsaw puzzle. The entire show shines including a piano duet with Kent and Sarah whose flying fingers are reflected in the gleaming lid of the grand piano. Joseph Carr delivers a Gesu Bambino with a lyrical tenor voice so clear it's as crisp as a breath of air on a winter morning. The first act is capped off with a rendition of "O Holy Night" that passes the solo from Sarah to Joe to a LaTeesha who finishes it with "the power and glory" climactic high notes that will have you shivering with chills.
The second act is a flash forward to more contemporary hits with LaTeesha on tender "Christmas Lullaby" by Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown, Sarah's inspirational interpretation of Harry Connick's "I Come With Love", and LaTeesha and Joe together on a mash-up of "I Believe/Ave Maria" that brought a lengthy ovation from the audience and was one of many high points of the evening. Rounding off the night is a seldom performed full version of "White Christmas" and an arrangement by Kansas City Composer Mark Hayes of "Go Tell it on the Mountain" that brings tingles of holiday excitement.Director Barnhart has brought out the best in his performers on this opening night. With music that compliments and captures each voice at it's best ,the evening is filled with variety and beauty at every turn. Barnhart hosts the evening with a genuine approach that connects with the audience and brings them into "the family". There is a definite romanticism to the night that makes for a perfect date or group gathering as the music brings a sense of camaraderie and closeness. This gifted quartet is not to be missed as they bring "Joy to the World' now through Christmas Eve.
Christmas in Song runs November 24th through December 24th at the Quality Hill Playhouse at 303 W 10th St in downtown Kansas City. Get your tickets at qualityhillplayhouse.com early to get in on the 16th Christmas season celebration.
Photos courtesy of J Kent Barnhart and the Quality Hill Playhouse.