“A Spectacular Christmas” at Crown Center

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The holiday sprit takes hold of the ensemble from MTH's "A Spectacular Christmas."

Striving to get into the festive spirit of the season? Still feeling a bit ‘humbug’ about the holidays?

One way to put your inner Grinch in his place is to visit the Off Center Theatre at Crown Center. The Musical Theater Heritage production of “A Spectacular Christmas” is lively enough to put a jingle in your step and warm enough to thaw the heart of a hardcore Scrooge.

Artistic Director Sarah Crawford and pianist/vocalist Jeremy Watson have put together yet another of their yearly yuletide revues which have become known for fine vocalizing, tight harmonies and sharp arrangements. The smart and balanced mix of sacred and secular holiday music helps make “A Spectacular Christmas” an amiable seasonal distraction.

The unusually talented performing ensemble includes Jacob Aaron Cullum, Brittanie Baker, Samantha Barboza, Katie Karel, John-Michael Zuerlein, with Watson providing strong piano accompaniment and background vocals. They’re joined on several numbers by gifted youngsters Malena Marcase, Willa Walberg and Jordan Haas, who more than hold their own with the adults.

Stephen Sondheim’s theatrical anthem, “Comedy Tonight” gets a witty reworking as “Christmas Show Tonight,” setting the stage for the likably lightweight first act.

Zuerlien’s rendition of a medley of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Christmas Cliches” is followed by a caroling section featuring the entire ensemble. Young Haas’ beautiful, bell-like vocal on “O Holy Night” provides the perfect lead.

Other highlights of act one include Watson’s rockin’ “Run, Run Rudolph” and Baker’s poignant “Count My Blessings.”

Act two plays a bit like an episode of NPR’s “A Praire Home Companion,” with funny and affecting stories added into the musical mix.

Baker offers a familial poem, “A Cup of Christmas Tea” and Karel explains how to get beyond the gift wrapping dilemma with “A Confession: How to Beat the Wrap.”

Cullum reads a letter that illuminates “A Surprise: From Father to Son” and Zuerlien explains the importance of a simple ornament with “A Christmas Story: The Ebay Angel.”

Barboza reads “A Christmas Letter from Iraq” and follows it with a touching version of the Carpenter’s “Merry Christmas, Darling.”

Crawford’s staging is clever, nimble and animated. For a show that is basically a vocal concert performed behind music stands, it’s got a lot of visual verve. The slick lighting and sound design add to the show’s appeal.

“A Spectacular Christmas” runs through December 23rd at the Off Center Theatre in Crown Center, 2450 Grand Avenue, Kansas City, Mo. Information is available at www.musicaltheaterheritage.com or by calling 816-221-6987.

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