By ROBERT TRUSSELL
The Kansas City Star
He’s at it again.
Ron Megee is a multi-threat theater artist — actor, director, playwright, choreographer, props maker, carpenter — but he just can’t resist the opportunity to change costumes at breakneck speed as he shifts gears from one character to another.
Take a peek in The Kansas City Star archives and you’re likely to see the name “Ron Megee” in close proximity to “double cast” and “multiple roles.”
In the grand tradition of Sir Alec Guinness in “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” Tony Randall in “7 Faces of Dr. Lao” and Peter Sellers in “The Mouse That Roared” and “Dr. Strangelove,” Megee has distinguished himself among local actors as a performer who can play as many as five roles in one show.
This month theatergoers have seen him do it again in “The Salvation of Iggy Scrooge” at the Unicorn Theatre. Director Missy Koonce has a way of stretching Megee like a rubber band. So far he hasn’t snapped.
The show is a caustic retelling of “A Christmas Carol” set to a rock score. In the place of Ebenezer Scrooge is Iggy — a rock star at once childish, selfish, petulant, demanding, irrational, abusive and delusional.
Matthew Rapport plays Iggy, but Megee plays four roles: Irene, a pseudo-groupie who wants Iggy to lend his name and talent to the cause of mad cow disease awareness; Oscar, an elderly custodian in the concert hall where Iggy is visited by ghosts who urge him to change his ways; the Ghost of Christmas Present in the guise of a caped, jump-suited Elvis; and Sister Bull, a sadomasochistic nun who runs a boarding school.
Everyone in the show plays more than one role except Rapport. But nobody else plays as many as Megee. Most of them also play instruments with the band at various times. Not Megee, whose talents do not include music.
“He’s very, very busy changing clothes,” Koonce said during rehearsals.
Megee appeared in “Iggy” once before, when the Unicorn first staged the show in 1997. In that one he played the Ghost of Christmas Past, aka Buddy Holly, and Freddie, Iggy’s cheerful nephew.
The script specifies which roles should be double- or triple-cast. But Megee said Koonce decided to shake things up by changing the tracks — the succession of roles played by a given actor. The Irene-Sister Bull-Oscar-Elvis track is new.
“I do a lot of shows where I play lots of people,” Megee said. “You’re never bored, not that I get bored in shows. But I’m constantly going. As soon as I step off stage I’m ripping off wigs and tearing clothes off. I’m running.”
“Iggy” features plenty of good performances, but Megee ended up with the juiciest bits. His first flash of brilliance is in a short but vivid appearance as Mother Bull, as Iggy is forced to revisit his childhood years at a boarding school. Mother Bull can’t help beating herself if she thinks she’s guilty of a sin — which she does rather often.
“I love her,” Megee said. “She is one evil woman. And I love that she punishes herself. The great thing with Missy is that she gives the actors such complete freedom in the supporting roles.
“Another great thing Missy does is she always wants the character to be based in truth. Like Oscar. I love him. He’s just this sweet little old man who’s worked at the concert hall forever.”
Megee said his first professional acting gig in Kansas City was in the Coterie Theatre’s 1992 production of “Neverland,” a retelling of “Peter Pan.” He played three roles, including John Darling and an outrageously effeminate pirate named Smee. The director was Jeff Church.
Church and Koonce, Megee said, are the directors who have cast him in multiples most often. His record so far is five roles in the “Sideways Stories From Wayside School” at the Coterie. Koonce directed it.
In “Iggy,” Megee is first seen before the show begins. As Irene, Megee and Erin McGrane (as Margie) occupy two seats in the the theater. They chatter away in character (Megee said they each created elaborate backstories for their minor roles) before the house lights dim and keep talking during Iggy’s initial appearance as he performs onstage with his band.
“We have a blast,” Megee said. “Each night we get to come out and sit in the audience and watch the first five minutes of the show. It’s funny because people don’t know who we are. Some people have asked us to be quiet. One lady thought we were in her seats and turned us in. There’s sort of a pre-show happening.”
For Elvis, Megee did some homework.
“At first I made the mistake of looking at the young Elvis,” Megee said. “But I found this thing online with little clips of thousands of interviews he did. He had become a parody of himself with the lip and the talking almost in a slur. So I combined that with 1968 Elvis so you could understand what I was saying.”
Megee said attendance has been brisk and some performances have been sold out.
“It’s been a great run,” he said. “And in the talk-backs it’s really interesting to hear what people are saying. We had one woman who just didn’t like Christmas at all but finally at the end, after she saw the way Iggy changed, she thought it conveyed it better than traditional versions of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ One Jewish woman said it made her believe in Christmas.”
We may see Megee in multiple roles in the spring when the Coterie stages “James and the Giant Peach.”
“Rumor is I may play two to four roles in that,” he said.
© 2011 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved