Seasonal cheer pervades the nation with an eclectic array of holiday shows -- not just the ubiquitous A Christmas Carol, which has multiple productions across the land including (but not limited to) Minneapolis, Seattle, Raleigh. But the month of December features more than your traditional holiday fare.
A new musical version of Peter Pan isn't necessarily holiday-themed. And yet, its placement during the winter season makes it ideal for families to spend time together. Peter Pan and Wendy comes to Philadelphia in the Prince Music Theater's take on J.M. Barrie's classic tale of childhood adventure. The score is by composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe (the creators of the Olivier Award-winning Honk!). This adaptation premiered in Copenhagen in 1996 and was performed in concert last year at London's Royal Festival Hall; the Prince production marks the musical's American premiere.
"I think audiences will love the songs," says director Ted Sperling. "The music is gorgeous and the lyrics are extremely clever. We also have a luxurious 14-piece orchestra with strings. As my producer, Marjorie Samoff, says, 'At the Prince Music Theater, music is our middle name!'"
Over a dozen local children are included in the 30-member cast, which also features Rita Gardner, who originated the role of The Girl in The Fantasticks. "I have really enjoyed working with the kids," continues Sperling. "We use three small storyteller children to provide a lot of the 'magic' -- together, they are Tinkerbell, the crocodile, the magic kite. Our entire show takes place in the nursery of the Darling children, springing from their imagination. The objects in their room transform and shift to provide the different settings."
Sperling has also updated the story to post-WWII London, with the Lost Boys a crucial part of the plot. "I felt that the parents in London, post-Blitz, would have a special concern for the safety of their children," he says. "Also, the British took in many refugee children as part of the Kindertransport in which European Jews sent their children to Britain, hoping they would be safe during the war. The Lost Boys have an echo there."
Is Santa Claus gay? Jeffrey Solomon's one-man show Santa Claus Is Coming Out tackles that question with humor, sensitivity, and aplomb. After critically acclaimed performances in Chicago and New York last year, Solomon goes on the road with this unique Christmas spectacular, staged in the style of a VH1 "Behind the Music" documentary.
The show was partly inspired by a real-life incident in which a much-loved second grade teacher, when asked by students about his marital status, replied that he was gay. "Town meetings were held, radio airwaves fired up, media vans swarmed the school, death threats were issued," says Solomon. "Despite signs of progress, 'Gay' is still 'the love that dare not speak its name' when it comes to kids. There are no beloved gay icons for children to look up to. Bugs Bunny is closeted. The Tooth Fairy appears too sporadically, and only when you're bleeding. I decided kids needed a gay hero."
"Santa Claus is the perfect candidate because there is so much mystery and confusion surrounding his origins," continues Solomon. "Why do we never see him? Why does he only come at night? Why does he live at the North Pole, beyond the reach of civilization? I got to thinking maybe he had something to hide."
Although Solomon is ethnically Jewish, he claims Santa Claus as one of his own boyhood idols. "No American child can avoid Santa-mania given the sheer volume of Santa Claus TV specials, commercials, mall Santas, and street Santas," he says. "And can you imagine a Santa Claus who would pass over the houses of perfectly deserving children just because they were Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist? That would be too cruel."
For the most part, audience response to the show has been good, though the subject matter has sparked some controversy. "In rural central Pennsylvania, the play received its first bit of protest mail with charges of blasphemy, offensiveness and indecency," Solomon relates. "It's so funny the way life echoes art. I would imagine these same folks joining the protesters in my play, standing outside Santa Claus's North Pole Workshop following the revelation of Kringle's sexual orientation."
After appearances in L.A. and San Diego earlier this month, Solomon continues on with stops in Philadelphia. He plans to bring the show to even more cities next year, joking that "I will not be happy until people all across the land remove Mrs. Claus, that shameful beard, from their plastic lawn displays and replace her with Santa's true love: Geovanni Geppedo, the great-great-great grandson of Pinocchio."
Of course, Christmas isn't the only holiday celebrated around this time of year, and Omaha Theater Company's Holiday Time Around the World insures that we don't forget that fact. Written by Brian Guehring, the two-person show is an interactive, dramatically narrated performance that explores how different cultures celebrate the holidays.
Tina Dixon, who performs in the show along with Brian Preisman, details this theatrical journey. "We travel to Mexico for the Christmas story of the poinsettia, Russia for the Christmas story of Baboushka and the bright star, Greece for the story of St. Nicholas and the stockings. We also travel to Israel for a story about the history of Hanukah and the dreidel. And we go to Kenya for a story about the lazy rabbits, which teaches the Kwanzaa principle of Umoja (unity)."
While the show is aimed at children ages 4-8, its educational value is sure to appeal to adults, as well. "In order to get to each country, we say a Christmas or holiday phrase in that language," says Dixon. "The set has a large map of the world painted on the floor, and we point out on the map where we are in each country. We have a large backdrop that has various holiday symbols from other parts of the world painted on it and 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays' written in different languages."
And from all of us here at TheaterMania, we wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday season.