The holiday season is in full swing, and, after taking part in all the fabulous Yuletide events in Lawrence, you may want to sample the sights and sounds of the Big City. It’s time to head to Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza for “Season of Magic” holiday specials and nearly 280,000 spectacular lights, more than 80 miles of them, which outline every shop, dome and tower of the Spanish-inspired shopping and entertainment district.
Thousands of visitors from all over the country descend upon the Country Club Plaza this time of year. Lavishly decorated shop windows, horse-drawn carriages, including one which looks just like Cinderella’s coach, and roving carolers turn the 15-block area into a festive winter wonderland.
Many of the Plaza’s restaurants offer live music, from jazz to reggae to classical, and shops have extended hours through Dec. 30. So, if you don’t like that mustard-colored tie that Aunt Margaret gave you, you can go after Christmas to get the neon orange Argyle socks that you really wanted. The KCP&L; Plaza Lights shine daily from 5 p.m. until 3 a.m. through Jan. 15, so don’t fret if you miss seeing them before Christmas.
Among the brand-new shops at Country Club Plaza is one that I’ve long been waiting for, H&M; at 440 W. 47th St., one of the world’s largest fashion brands, known for affordable and trend-setting collections. The shop’s often-funky accessories — purses, scarves, hats, gloves, bracelets and belts — are lots of fun to rummage through, too.
Eight new shops on the Plaza are open exclusively for the holiday season, and many of them feature local artists. Decori, 112 W. 47th St., offers Christmas trees and ornaments, limited edition fairies, and hand-sculpted Santas. Rosehill Gardens, 340 W. 47th St., stocks Christmas trees, custom handmade wreaths, ornaments, tabletop centerpieces and lights. When you feel your blood sugar flagging after a hard day’s shopping, make a mad dash to locally owned bakery Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott, which boasts handcrafted French pastries. Their signature cakes have been referred to as “like Heaven with icing.”
To continue the mood of holiday cheer, almost nothing evokes the spirit of Christmas more than Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s production, now in its 31st year, does not disappoint. Last year the show received a dramatic makeover from new director Kyle Hatley, involving a set rebuilt to showcase a revolving stage and many eye-popping special effects. If the startling appearance of Marley’s ghost doesn’t give you chills, then you’ve got ice water running through your veins.
Lawrence’s own Cheryl Weaver does a terrific job playing Mrs. Cratchit, and Gary Neal Johnson will knock your socks off with his rendition of Scrooge. Jim Gall, impressively tall in stilts, comes out into the audience during every performance and makes comments, often complimentary, about Lawrence and Kansas University basketball, which will give you a warm feeling inside, even if they don’t pertain to Victorian London.
Spencer Theatre, KC Rep’s home of “A Christmas Carol,” is at 4949 Cherry St., on UMKC’s campus, and the production runs through Dec. 26.
If you’re having too much fun to drive back to Lawrence, consider making a reservation at the award-winning Raphael Hotel, 325 Ward Parkway, a luxurious boutique property now part of the exclusive Marriott Autograph Collection.
I love staying at the Raphael, not just because of its Old-World charm, but also because of its modern conveniences and Midwestern hospitality. Guests can sit on the crushed velvet sofa in the gorgeous European-style lobby and sip hot tea and coffee in the morning, then be treated to cupcakes and apple cider in late afternoon. Chaz on the Plaza, the Raphael’s signature restaurant, features modern American regional cuisine and a menu that changes seasonally to reflect availability of locally grown produce and meat.
Guest rooms and suites at the Raphael include mahogany-finished writing desks complete with laptop ports and wireless Internet access. Beds have comfy pillow-top mattresses that are heavenly to sink into after admiring the fountains, statues and murals on the Plaza.
You’re right in the heart of everything when you stay at the Raphael. Best of all, you can admire those sparkling Plaza lights right from your bedroom window. What better way to usher in the “Season of Magic”?