Warn the kids. Santa isn’t coming to town this season. Instead, the fate of Christmas relies on the younger Claus, Junior, who must save the day when a depleted Christmas “belief-o-meter” puts the jolly man in a deep slumber. That’s the premise of Junior Claus, the new musical now playing at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center.
The title character is a young would-be-inventor who already feels the pressure of one day succeeding the senior Claus in the role of Santa. Never too successful in his creations, Junior is passed over by Santa for chief inventor. That role goes to the elf Grumpo and if you can’t tell by his name, he’s the bad guy. The blow is enough for Junior to declare he hates Christmas, sending the already dangerously low belief-o-meter to zero and incapacitating Santa.
Crushed, Junior runs away, while Grumpo stays behind in Christmas Town set on destroying Christmas and profiting off all the toys in the workshop. Out in the vast North Pole, Junior comes across a homesick penguin who leads Junior to discover the error of running away. Together with the help of another elf, Chipper, and a youngster who still believes in Christmas, Junior is able to return the belief-o-meter to full capacity, ensuring that all Christmas presents are delivered on time.
|junior claus, playing through december 27 at the burnsville performing arts center. for tickets ($32) and information, see burnsvillepac.com.|
While the plot is simple and not all that original, it seemed to be exactly what audience members expected and wanted. Perhaps those in the audience weren’t familiar with large-scale Broadway productions, but quite a few could be heard marveling at the cardboard cutout scenery and generic costumes. (It should be noted that Dancer the reindeer wore high heels effortlessly.) Still, the creative team seemed to know what would work for this audience. Young kids got excited when they learned Junior and co. would travel to Minneapolis-St. Paul to find a child with Christmas spirit. And parents and kids alike enthusiastically chanted “I believe” when Junior asked for the audience’s help restoring power to the belief-o-meter.
As Junior, Brian Skellenger—who is a proven talented performer—is charming, but isn’t quite up to the task of carrying the show, although the thin material is partially to blame for that. And because this is Junior’s show, Santa and Mrs. Claus (Mark Bradley and Teri Parker-Brown, respectively) come across as merely blips on the stage. Also surprisingly lackluster is the villain Grumpo. A villain can often be the most delicious part of a musical comedy, but Tom Danford’s Grumpo is watered down and never feels like a legitimate threat. Even his songs are missing that sinister punch.
More successful is Ali Rose Dachis as Chipper, the exuberant elf who pines for Junior and sees in him what he can’t see in himself. Her over-the-top love for all things “Christmasy” is infectious rather than annoying. Cara Michelle Fish as Pengy the penguin, along with Madeline Kadlec as the young girl who helps Junior save Christmas and has a voice well beyond her years, are also great treats.
While the show isn’t a home run, it’s successful enough at providing holiday entertainment for families looking to take their kids to a live show this season. Kids will enjoy the colorful costumes and sets, and the easy-to-follow plot. Meanwhile, parents can appreciate the jokes intended for them and the music of Michael Kooman, which is nicely done and pleasantly catchy. Another bonus is the beautiful new Burnsville Performing Arts Center, complete with free parking. You won’t get that on Broadway.
|This event is featured in the Daily Planet’s complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.|