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HO HO WHO The off-Broadway cast of Kris Kringle The Musical! Does this show sound like a Santa origin story, like the 1970 Animagic classic Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town? Too bad—it’s not. That would probably be better. Instead Broadway star Andrew Keenan-Bolger (the original Crutchie in Newsies) plays Kris Kringle, Santa’s estranged nephew who’s attempting to get back into his uncle’s good graces and his toy workshop, where he hopes to design animatronic stuffed animals.
YOU BETTER WATCH OUT: Theaters are always on the hunt for new shows that may entertain the masses in December. Popular newcomers to the rotation include Elf the Musical (now playing at Olney Theatre Center), Holiday Inn, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. All I want for Christmas next year is not to see Kris Kringle in 2019. The ho-ho-hum musical was first staged in the Cleveland suburbs three years ago. “This production,” The Plain Dealer’s critic wrote, “has as much likelihood of heading to Broadway as a chubby fella coming down your chimney on Christmas Eve.” Undeterred, the creative team persevered, perhaps improved things, and last fall presented a one-day concert staging of the show at New York’s Town Hall Theater and made this cast recording.
BEWARE THE MAN WITH THE BAG: “Exposition” is the fancy theater term for backstory. Typically it falls early in a musical—you know, like in Hamilton, where there’s that opening number about “the bastard, orphan son of a whore”? In Kris Kringle The Musical, we don’t get the helpful exposition until track 14 of 17. That’s when Elmer the Elf and his pals chant, “The curse. The curse. The Kringle curse.” Ready for the verse? Santa’s brother John was the greatest toy maker ever, “But inside him burned greed. He tried to get the elves to make the toys for money. (Gasp!)” It’s unclear whether John was a union organizer or trying to compete with Amazon. At any rate, Santa cast his brother out and added a curse: Should John Kringle or anyone in his family—including Kris—ever enter the workshop again, all the elves will freeze.
CHEER FACTOR: 0/10. Cast out his own brother? Freeze the elves? What kind of Santa is this? I checked his bio, and apparently the actor is an adjunct professor at a community college in Ohio. I’m sure he’s great. But don’t get me started on the subplot about G.R. Reedy (Erick Devine), a transparently named industrialist attempting to make his “Tiffany Dolls” the biggest thing since Tickle Me Elmo. At least he gets to sing a catchy waltz called “What Is So Merry About Christmas?” For better or mostly for worse, “The Kringle Curse” is a driving minor key reminder that theaters are always on the hunt for more holiday fare, and sometimes musicals that belong in the coal bin end up onstage.