If you notice smoke in the air before the show starts, don't be alarmed. It's just atmosphere, setting the stage for Iggy Scrooge, rock star, in concert, light show included. It's an appropriately flashy opening for The Salvation of Iggy Scrooge, pulling the audience in fast — two audiences, really, in a kind of play within a play.
"Marley is dead," Iggy Scrooge (played by Matthew Rapport) wails, the show's first reference to its source material. And off we go, with parallels to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol resonant inside a punked-out package. The Scrooge we know is right here, his personality revealed in that opening concert as he publicly berates a backup guitarist (Matthew McAndrews) who's been with Iggy for 15 years — and has taken 15 years of Iggy's abuse. Fifteen years? McAndrews looks more like Justin Bieber than a veteran rocker. (This show, a co-production with UMKC Theatre, incorporates student actors.) But he's perfectly cast later in the show as Buddy Holly, the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Bieber wasn't born when The Salvation of Iggy Scrooge was first staged, but his name is dropped more than once in this new production. Larry Larsen and Eddie Levi Lee's script, with music by Edd Key, is from the 1980s but hasn't really aged. As directed by Missy Koonce, it has a lot of current — and local — references.
Iggy is hardened, arrogant, self-centered, burned-out. We see his nature in full force backstage in a break before an encore. It's a long break, but the audience waits for him because he's, you know, Iggy. Rapport looks the part (and has the musical chops to sound it, too). Mean Iggy lays into another of his musicians, Cratchit (Dean Vivian), as well as his nephew Fred (Greg Brostrom), and wants to party with two women who visit him backstage (played by Ron Megee, in the first of his many roles, and Erin McGrane). But the women are there to promote a benefit concert and want Iggy to play. The cause? Mad cow disease, which affects Cratchit's daughter, Tiny Tina (Kelly Gibson). Of course, Iggy says no way.
After the show, when Iggy falls into a whiskey-drunk sleep, he gets the first picture of what lies ahead for him: Marley's ghost pays a visit. That's reggae artist Bob Marley, powerfully played by Rufus Burns in a costume that, along with the chains that bind him, seems to incorporate wires belonging to a strapped-on bomb. Despite Marley's warnings and Iggy's initial fright, Iggy talks himself out of self-reform and reacquaints himself with his bottle. And so sets the stage for the Ghost of Christmas Past, a Buddy Holly uncannily embodied by a joyous McAndrews.
All of the actors play more than one role, and Megee gets laughs from his first entrance. He has a following — on opening night, his fans were in obvious attendance — but the adoration is deserved here. Megee embraces the sadistic nun who was Iggy's teacher in Catholic school (on a journey to Iggy's past), and he's hilarious as Elvis, the Ghost of Christmas Present. As an elderly custodian, he channels the voice of Dustin Hoffman's Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie. As funny as Megee is, his presence threatens to — well, does — steal the show for a while in Act 2, leaving poor Iggy to take a backseat.
In fact, Megee breaks the fourth wall completely, and the show slows a bit in the second part. It also borders on camp, particularly when Elvis and Iggy visit the Christmas dinner of Cratchit and his family. But it remains entertaining. Cratchit's wife, Rainbow (McGrane), prepares organic tofu turkey (remember mad cow?), and their son, Marty (Matt Weiss, in one of his roles), is a roadie for Huey Lewis & the News, in an appropriate Back to the Future reference.
Camp may be the selling point here, though. If the emotional range of the actors is limited, it's because humor is this version's reason for being. This isn't your typical holiday show.
Even with Megee's star presence, the musical succeeds as an ensemble piece about Iggy's ultimate transformation. The Ghost of Christmas Future is the scariest of Iggy's guests (convincingly brought to life — or brought back to life — by Weiss) and gets his message across. And the show winds down to its still-relevant conclusion with a modern and comical take that's in the spirit of both Dickens' story and this production.
Tony Bernal's musical direction is seamless, and the players (Bernal on keyboards, Brian Wilson on bass, Julian Goss on percussion) are neatly integrated into the action with the actors, especially in a scene in Cajun Louisiana in a trip to the past. The ghosts make their entrances quickly; suddenly they're there, surprising the audience as well as Iggy. The smoke machine and the set's revolving stage effectively create a veil between reality and that other, ethereal world. Costumes (designed by Genevieve V. Beller) help portray time and place as well as character, and the sets are simple but just right.
The Salvation of Iggy Scrooge rocks from the start, telling its familiar story with propulsive pop-rock, imaginative impersonations and wit. Iggy takes his journey — which, like all trips, is about the whole megillah — and we accompany him. His visits to the past lead to a very present gift for the audience, and an Iggy who finally finds a lust for life.