As the title implies, this is an original piece, so my daughter and I were most excited to see what new situations we would find Santa in. The show does not disappoint.
Our story begins at Christmas time, when Santa announces that, after a thousand-year run, he is ready to retire. Thus begins a charming, musical year in Santa’s workshop as he trains Nick, a web site designer and father, who will replace Santa when he retires. James Chandler is funny and commanding as Nick, struggling throughout the play to feel fully capable of the big job. Josie Dawn is excellent as Bea, Nick’s daughter, who never doubts her father’s abilities throughout his training. Nick’s efforts are repeatedly thwarted by the jealous elf Henchy who wants the privilege of being the new Santa for himself.
The set is fun and colorful, centered on the hand-crafted looking, circular control console in Santa’s workshop. Two benches trim the console in front, opening out on hinges for seating when needed. Characters variously walk through or stand in the center of the busy control center with its many bright lights and important-looking knobs. The whole set has an animated feeling without being too over-the-top. The combination of old fashioned woodwork and advanced technology creates a little Christmas magic all its own.
All of the music is new and original–no traditional holiday songs–and yet it really works. It’s novel and engaging but still conveys the feeling of the holiday season. Dawn’s vocals are especially strong, The dynamic between her and Chandler as daughter and father is compelling–to both me and to my daughter, a nice aspect of the show to share together.
The many modern references bring what could be a dated Santa’s workshop story into the twenty-first century. References to hashtags and “like” buttons modernize the story and make it relatable to contemporary kids. Bea even suggests that they use Nick’s previous skills as a web designer to create a web site for children to submit their wish lists when the letters stop coming in the mail.
The choreography really adds, especially the entertaining way the reindeer prance on stage. There’s a little overacting here and there, a bit broad even for children’s theater. But the kids are delighted when the characters come right out into the crowd. At one point, they even take children’s names from the audience to try to reconstruct the lost “Naughty and Nice” list. And after the performance, there’s a good chance kids will find Santa again when they get to the lobby. What could be better than that?
I was a bit fearful that this performance might be “too young” for my daughter, who is eleven, but she was glued to the proceedings the whole time; and there were plenty of families there with children older than mine who seemed to enjoy their evening as well. It’s fast-paced, so they’re never bored. And as for this adult, I must say I also found myself being swept away with Nick and Bea on their adventure to their new home, the North Pole.