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Stop Motion Broadway

December 1, 2009

My friend, Heather, and I were discussing the classic Rankin Bass holiday specials last week, and the Broadway quality of these classics.  Heather presented a very strong case  for TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS.  I, on the other hand, have to go to bat for THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS.

First of all, the opening/title song is classic Broadway:  The narrator/ female lead (Mrs. C) sings the first verse with a gentle yet suspenseful string lead, which then turns into a big, splashy up tempo chorus.  Meanwhile, the plot and the story is being laid out and we are given the back story, without tedious exposition.

Secondly, we get an “I want” song.  Mrs. C, is more than willing to try her hand at what Santa does, proudly singing, “I could be Santa Claus!”.  We’re now in her corner to help her resolve the impending holiday crisis.  This is mucally followed by, in my opinion, the most beautiful song from Maury and Jules:  “I Believe in Santa Claus”.  I love the message here.  Santa isn’t just about giving toys.  He’s about love, kindness, and generosity.  It’s a brilliantly disguised lesson as to what Christmas is supposed to be about.

Then the mood lightens musically with “It’s Gonna Snow”, a nifty dixieland jazz number, followed by the piece de resistance of specialty songs, “Heat Miser” and “Freeze Meister”.

Granted “Blue Christmas” is not original to the special, but it fits perfectly.  We’re given the kids’ point of view of how much they’re going to miss Santa this year, and Santa realizes just how much he means to the kids, and is the motivator for the happy conclusion, which includes a bookending reprise of teh title song.  “Here Comes Santa Claus” isn’t an original piece, either, but I love the orchestration, and would make this the 11 o’clock production number.

As far as character development, Mrs. C is strong, caring, but no-nonsense.  She’s not intimidated by the Miser brothers comic sibling rivalry.  Jingle and Jangle are great comic reliefe.  I love the bit where Jingle is on the phone saying, “Yes Mrs. Claus, No Mrs. Claus, Right away Mrs. Claus”, only to have Jangle ask “Who was that?”  Then, there’s Iggy’s transformation from doubt to belief to acceptance of Santa, Mrs. C, and the elves is a joy.

Heather and I agree that along with the maestro of Fall River, Maury Laws and Jules Bass deserve to have their music and lyrics heard on a Broadway stage.  Let’s go back to the title song of YEAR.  I have no problems breaking the verses up with reaction dialgue among the various characters.  Or how about expanding “It’s Gonna Snow” into a full out dance number…a square dance/cakewalk hybrid, perhaps.  In the words of Young Frankenstein himself: “It…could…..work!”  Heather suggested Rita Moreno could play Mother Nature as a cameo.  Fine by me, as long as we can give her a song, and let her have fun with the dialogue.

My biggest question, though, is who holds the rights to the Rankin/Bass song library, and would they be willing to let my friend and I do things the way they SHOULD be done?  Too many producers tried to influence SEUSSICAL, and destroyed it.  I refuse to let that happen here.

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