A tropical forest isn’t the setting you might imagine for a Christmas musical. But when temperatures are minus 7 outside, the idea of being transported to a lush green land, if only for a couple of hours is inviting.
The adventure starts from first entering the intimate Quays theatre with cast members pulling ropes of fabric across the audience and encouraging little ones to bang sticks or dance with the cast. This sets the scene for an energetic and interactive show, but once it starts, it’s clear this show is never going quite the way we expect.
The story is based on the 1902 children’s book, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum – better known for his classic, Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Like Oz, this tale is set is a fantasy land that has some link to reality, with the characters moving between their home in the magical Forest of Burzee and earth.
Claus straddles both lands after being found as a baby by wood nymph, Necile who brings him up as her own. But once Claus grows and learns of his human connection, he is curious to find out more. Even with a pet lion in tow, leaving the enchanted forest brings its dangers and Claus is shocked to discover that life on earth isn’t always as joyful as life with the fairies, knooks and ryls.
Generous-hearted Claus wants to make the world a better place, but the villainous Awgwas have other ideas. Claus must overcome these battles to bring the miracle of Christmas to children around the world.
Stewart J Charlesworth’s multi-layered set fills the whole stage like an adventure playground, while director, Kate Golledge incorporates shadow puppetry to add an extra dimension to the characters’ travels. But at the moment it feels like the cast is yet to be let loose with the show’s playfulness.
Although there are some tough issues raised in Simon Warne’s adaptation, there is still much room for fun that hopefully will come once the cast feels more at home with this brand new show. The music is beautifully sung, but the musicians are hidden back-stage and there are no instantly catchy tunes to leave you singing all the way home. That said, I don’t want to be all bah humbug about it because there are some lovely messages for children, not least that kindness and generosity are the best gifts you can give. It’s also very early in its first run so there is time for Santa to work his magic yet.
Claus The Musical is at The Lowry from 14 December 2022 to 8 January 2023.
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