Unicorn’s ‘Iggy Scrooge’ rock ’n’ rolls over Dickens

The Kansas City Star
At its best, the Unicorn Theatre/UMKC Theatre co-production of “The Salvation of Iggy Scrooge” offers up a brand of inspired lunacy that stamps indelible images on the viewer’s memory.

There is simply no way you’ll be able to forget Matthew McAndrews as the perpetually boyish ghost of Buddy Holly with a zombie twitch or Ron Megee as the polyester-jumpsuited version of Elvis with opaque sunglasses and a gut.

Matt Rapport in "The Salvation of Iggy Scrooge" (Susan Pfanmuller/Kansas City Star)

This rock musical by Larry Larson, Eddie Levi Lee and Edd Key was conceived — and is happily received — as a cynical update of “A Christmas Carol,” an unapologetic antidote to all the syrupy expressions of familial unity and the supposed unmitigated bliss of childhood assaulting consumers at every turn this time of year.

That said, the writers follow the Dickens original fairly closely, and their script tends to run out of comedic gas as the narrative marches on to its predetermined resolution — the “salvation” of a burned-out rock star version of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Director Missy Koonce gets the most out of the material, throwing in amusing references to the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s version of “A Christmas Carol” and allowing her designers to get crazy. Genevieve V. Beller’s costumes are a succession of visual jokes and coordinate nicely with Kerith Parashak’s scenic design, which makes clever use of the Unicorn’s turntable stage.

Matt Rapport plays Iggy, the verbally abusive, narcissistic, drugged-up rock star who is visited in his dressing room by three ghosts. The first is his dead songwriting partner, Bob Marley (Rufus Burns), who appears draped in chains and festooned with warped LPs and scratched-up CDs. He warns Iggy that if he doesn’t clean up his act he, like Marley, will be forced to walk the earth in limbo.

The experience is enough for Iggy to swear off drugs and alcohol for all of two minutes, but the Ghost of Christmas Past in the form of Buddy Holly comes calling and forces him to revisit traumatic experiences from his youth and adolescence. McAndrews repeatedly pops into a dental-flashing facsimile of an 8-by-10 glossy, and Beller has costumed him in Holly’s emblematic white dinner jacket — albeit showing some of the effects of the plane crash that took Holly’s life, including a tattered sleeve, a few blood stains and a little scorched fabric.

Holly takes Iggy back to the Catholic boarding school where he suffered under the sadistic discipline of Sister Bull (Megee, in his first brilliant performance of the evening). And then he is taken back to the annual holiday pig roast and music party hosted by Blind Lemon Fezziwig Thibideau (Dean Vivian). There he sees the young Iggy (Matt Weiss) foolishly leave Belle (Britney McLeod) with the empty pledge that he’ll “send for her.”

Next Iggy is confronted by the Ghost of Christmas Present, who looks a lot like Elvis. Megee isn’t doing an impersonation of the King so much as a sort of impressionistic parody. Megee, tall and angular and outfitted with a prosthetic belly, visually suggests a strange hybrid of some sort, as if we were watching an impersonation performed by a stork.

Elvis allows Iggy to watch his abused backup musician Cratchit (Vivian again) celebrate a humble Christmas dinner with a tofu turkey prepared by his “Aquarian” wife, Rainbow (Erin McGrane). Then they eavesdrop on a holiday party thrown by Iggy’s nephew Freddie (Greg Brostrom) in which Iggy is mocked mercilessly in a party game.

Ultimately, of course, Iggy is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future (Weiss, in a commedia mask and a hooded black cape) and witnesses the desolate fate that awaits him if he doesn’t change his ways.

Rapport is solid as Iggy, getting particularly good mileage from the out-of-control, egomaniacal version early in the show. He’s a good guitarist, although his voice sometimes seems to be searching for the right key. But he anchors a good cast with a strong stage presence.

Megee, as noted, is in rare form in this show, bringing to the stage a sense of humor that is somehow refined and unapologetically broad. The supporting performances are quite good, with Brostrom delivering a memorably quirky quality to Freddie. Kelly Gibson rotates in an out of various roles — Iggy as a boy, Tiny Tina — and her versatility on the violin makes an important musical contribution.

The band members — Tony Bernal on keyboards, Brian Wilson on bass, Julian Goff on drums — perform impeccably, and their sound is fleshed out by members of the cast. Weiss, McAndrews and Burns play guitars, Vivian doubles on guitar and banjo, McGrane plays a ukulele in one scene and Bernal doubles on accordion.

The songs themselves vary in quality, but the most entertaining number in the show is “Christmas Is Rockin,’ ” sung by Elvis. Megee doesn’t have the best singing voice in the world, but he knows how to sell a song. And does he ever.

Read more theater news at kansascity.com.

© 2011 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved

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