Kansas City is home to many places for entertainment. There is one, though, that sets itself apart from the others.
J. Kent Barnhart is at home in front of a piano. He studied at the Conservatory of Music in Kansas City, but ended up taking a corporate job. That was until a friend asked him to play a 12-week stint at a theater.
"I was working for a big corporate company and I quit my job, and came down and played the piano and realized that I loved theater and I never went back," Barnhart said.
Today he is the executive director of the Quality Hill Playhouse, a quaint, but upscale theater that brings the classics alive.
"It really is a little bit of New York Elegance in Kansas City. Everyone says they're unique, but we really are unlike anything you've ever seen," Barnhart said.
Quality Hill Playhouse was built in 1987 and Barnhart took over in 1995. Since then, he's put on six shows a year, each running four-to-five weeks long. Each brings in its own cabaret-style touch with such collections as the current Rhapsody in Gershwin.
"During Rhapsody in Gershwin you have people who want to come hear the live performance of Rhapsody in Blue, which you never have a chance to hear. So, 20 years into it, we're still attracting new people and, knock on wood, 20 years into it we're still growing," Barnhart said.
He is part emcee, part party host and introduces the audience to each number in a casual way that appeals to most everyone.
"The room is filled with 153 people who are literally right there in my hands, and I might be touching, I might be funny, but they are ready to go with me wherever I take them, I love that," Barnhart said.
The playhouse only uses local talent and even holds open auditions in the spring. It's a quality theater that's time-tested and audience-approved.
For Barnhart, it's like a friendship no matter how often you come.
"I consider it a long-term relationship. You can come to one show and have a great time, but if you come to the whole season, you get the big picture," he said.
Rhapsody in Gershwin ends this Sunday and there are still a few tickets available. Great Duets of Musical Theater begins July 18.
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