Fort Worth — It's hard to find original productions during the holidays. That's because humans are sentimental types, especially during the holidays, and they want to see their favorite classic Christmas stories—the one they saw when they were 5, or the first one they took their own children to, or the one guaranteed to give them those warm, fuzzy Christmas feelings. Every Christmas classic that makes the theater box office happy started out as a world premiere at some time, right? And who knows when the next "classic" will make its debut, inspiring audiences to say, "Wow! I want to see that show every Christmas!"?
Here Comes Santa Claus, an original show that made its world premiere at Casa Mañana Children's Theatre over the weekend, is probably not destined to be that show.
First of all, Noah Putterman, who wrote and directed the new piece, couldn't seem to decide what kind of show it should be. Instead, Putterman, Casa's director of children's theater and education, created a quirky mash-up of themes and styles that makes you want to say, "Ummmm ... what?"
The show has a promising start. Kids in school uniforms are sitting in a classroom and perform to a rock style song about anticipating Christmas vacation, "Everybody Wants to Go Home," written by Mark Friedman and Janet Vogt, the duo who wrote Snow White & the Prince and Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale, both of which have been staged at Casa in recent seasons. Jeremy Dumont and Alyssa Robbins choreographed the number, giving it a hip, fresh look with bored poses, stomping feet and defiantly standing on chairs (think Matilda and Spring Awakening).
Once the school bell signals the beginning of class, we meet rich kid and class bully, Simon Crooges (see what Putterman did with the name there?). When everyone reads their assigned journal entries, Simon shares that to him, Christmas means presents and time off from school. And that's it. Simon goes home, gets in trouble for bullying his teacher's daughter about their lack of affluence and sent to his room. There he is visited by the ghost of his dead goldfish, Howard, who sings a parody of "I Say a Little Prayer for You" and warns Simon that he will be visited by three spirits ... and now we're into familiar territory. From there, Here Comes Santa Claus, goes from the contemporary style of its opening number to become another retelling of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. But with dead goldfish, Elvis and a Christmas version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." (Sample lyrics: "I see a little silhouetto of a man ... Santa Claus, Santa Claus, won't you come down my chimney?")
Samuel Moran plays the overbearing, pretentious Simon. Although he is an equal opportunity bully, the main object of his teasing is his teacher's daughter, Suzy, played beautifully downtrodden by Camryn Wright in the Sunday performance. She's bigger than Simon, and could probably deck him, but Simon prefers to dabble in psychological torture rather than physical bullying.
Brooke Verbois was the first spirit in Sunday's performance and makes a charming and traditional Christmas Past in a flowy dress and a wreath of candles on her head. She is followed by Christmas Present, who's more like a Christmas from the 1950s with Greg Dulcie in a red tracksuit and Elvis pompadour with Elvis moves and mannerisms and bee-hived doo-wop back-up singers. Christmas Future is Brandon Shreve as a snarky elf who shows Simon that his future holds being an insufferable, wealthy boss with no friends if he doesn't change his ways.
After watching his future self make a sad phone call to his always-working dad, Simon gathers up his classmates and makes a Christmas Day visit to his teacher's house to make amends. Then Santa shows up, not surprisingly receiving the biggest applause from the audience of relieved kids.
The scenes are interspersed with music that ranges from holiday pop tunes, like "That's What Christmas Means to Me," to parodies, like Hall and Oates' "She's Gone" rewritten to "He's Gone" and performed with campy overacting by Simon's parents played by Cate Cozzens and Keith Warren.
Katie Dill's set is basic, but works and allows for quick scene changes. It takes a while to realize that the giant clock that looks like it's backward is on the backside of the outside of a building and not a mistake. The show's visual treats come from Samuel Rushen's lighting design, particularly the rock concert light effects in "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Here Comes Santa Claus isn't really that much about Santa. It's probably a little long on talking and short on pizzazz to keep the little ones' attention until Santa shows up. When the house lights came up after the show, a youngster sitting in the next row loudly said, "That was weird." Yep, kiddo. It was.