Dateline—Ho-ho-hold it! What’s happening up at the North Pole this Christmas?
Mrs. Claus (the twinkly, huggable Deborah Brown) is knitting beachwear instead of warm winter scarves. And the Santa workshop has its knickers in a (peppermint) twist over news that Santa (boot-stomping, big-voiced Greg Dulcie) is thinking hard about hanging it up.
As in quitting. Retiring. And handing things over to…who, exactly?
Casa Mañana Children’s Theatre’s world premiere holiday show Santa Claus: A New Musical works this revoltin’ development for all it’s worth. Yes, Santa is leaving—and after only 1,000 years of spreading holiday joy around the globe.
But the Big Man has a plan.
He has his eye on a guy named Nick (big-hearted comfort dude James Chandler) and his daughter, Beatrice (a lively, clear-voiced Josie Dawn)—who don’t have a clue they’re about to be run over by a reindeer…with an offer they’ll find hard to refuse.
Casa’s director of education Noah Putterman directs his original script and keeps things energetic throughout. Music and lyrics come from the NYC-based team of David Christensen and Luke Holloway, who nicely balance a rockin’ sensibility with a bit of Christmas cheer in several memorable numbers. And with a collection of fine adult actors—good singers all—and young students from CPAC (the Casa Mañana Performing Arts Conservatory), Santa Claus is a showcase for local talent.
What happens when Santa tells the elves this is his last ride? No surprise: they all think the next Santa should be “Somebody Like Me.” Main Elf Henchy (a tightly wound, slightly scary Zak Reynolds) is red as Santa’s hat at the thought of anyone but himself taking over. After all, he keeps the “Naughty or Nice” list, and knows where to find every child in the world. Who better to take the reins?
Alyssa Gardner, Julie Rhodes and Laura Wetsel are tuneful and peppy as a trio of elves commenting on the crazy goings-on, as Henchy plots, plans, and spends most of Act One trying to mess up Santa’s plan for a peaceful transition of power—and leaves everything in a “Jingle Jam” that had a few little audience members worried.
Intermission brought plenty of questions. “Is the real Santa gonna quit?” asked a small voice. “Where did they go?” asked another—who would not be comforted by an explanation of what “backstage” means. Cups of hot chocolate (proceeds go to Casa’s education programs) soothed jangled spirits.
Act Two doubles down on the drama. Will Henchy shred the children’s letters to Santa and spoil Christmas? Will Nick get the hang of deciding who’s naughty/nice—or learn how to drive Santa’s sleigh without crashing into trees? There’s a sweet moment between Santa and the missus (“The Good, The Bad, and Everything Between”) and plenty of air guitar rockin’ the stage (“What Would Santa Do?”) by the time this story gets happily wrapped up.
Bob Lavallee’s clever set design is vintage on the edges (a Torah-like scroll holds the “naughty or nice” list, a gigantic Bible-ish book has every child’s name) and goes high tech at center stage with a brightly flashing control board. Andre Cerullo’s bouncy musical direction, Samuel Rushen’s candy-bright lighting and Kyle McCord’s quirky sound effects keep small bottoms on the edge of their seats, and Michael Mindlin’s bustling choreography (there’s a bit of everything: moonwalk, techno, the pony, even some ballroom) pleasantly shows off the ensemble. (Hi, Mom, I’m a dancing reindeer!) And as always, Tammy Spencer’s vivid and varied costumes are the mint on the Christmas cookie.
Santa Claus has more laughs for the little folks than their parents—but it’s a lively, pleasant evening pulled off by a polished and professional cast. Happy Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays to all!