Currently being staged at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in West Seattle, Santa’s First Magical Ride: The Bluegrass Musical is a true family production that will have special appeal for Santa Claus believers. It's an origin story for Santa that answers kids’ thorny questions about the jolly old elf.
The answers are a patchwork of elven kingdoms, angels, and aliens from the planet Yule – delivered entirely in verse, and supported by high-energy bluegrass numbers. Why do North Pole elves play bluegrass? I imagine it’s because bluegrass is more fun than the music they play on Broadway.
The play, adapted by local musician-playwright Ricky Gene Powell from the book by local writer and musician Paul S. Carr III, is framed as a story told by Santa to the little girl Maia, played by a young actress of the same name who impressed everyone (especially my own two girls) with her flawless delivery of some lengthy verses.
Just as each elf character has a different magical skill, the cast is drawn from a combination of acting and music backgrounds. Accompanied by an off-stage but visible five-piece string band, the North Pole elves dance and sing their way through the story, sometimes supplementing the band with their own instruments.
The delightfully despicable King Kril was a big hit, with his head and feet played by Eric Pope and hands played by Katheranne Reese. The physical gag is a summer camp staple, but had the kids (and some of the grownups) laughing out loud anyway. Other highlights included a bluegrass Christmas carol sing-along during the intermission and a musical number where one elf played guitar while tap-dancing.
Santa and all the elves made themselves available for photos and happily chatted with children from the audience after the performance.
While bluegrass music is surprisingly technical, it cherishes a homespun aesthetic, which was apparent in this first run of the production. Some of the rough edges were sweet, like the mid-scene labeling of magic corn for the reindeer; but intermittent lighting and sound issues made it difficult to follow the action at times.
Stories in verse work well on the page, but can be notoriously difficult to pull off on the stage. I wasn’t sure if my kids could really follow the story. Afterwards, I asked them to tell me about it, and sure enough, the details were lost on them. My four year old said, “Santa is telling a little girl a story about elves.” But my eight year-old said, “I learned Christmas is about love and that giving presents is about giving love and not just getting presents back.”
Later in the day, I heard my four year-old singing her own little song about Christmas and love. So maybe the details of the story aren’t so important after all.
While the performances and staging are not perfectly polished, Santa’s First Magical Ride incorporates all the key elements of the Santa legend in a creative and unorthodox mash-up of a story. The live bluegrass accompaniment may make you do-si-do all the way back to the car, taking the heartfelt message home with you.
If you go ...
When: Santa's First Magical Ride ends its run this weekend, with shows on Friday, December 21, 7 p.m.; Saturday, December 22, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sunday, December 23, 2 p.m.
Where: Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, 4408 Delridge Way S.W., Seattle
Tickets: Tickets are available at the door or through Brown Paper Tickets. General admission is $15, though, says the website: "Family Pricing is available. Let's talk. Call Libby at 206-938-8721 or at the door."
Fundraising packages for Ignite! (a Seattle schools program helping girls go into the sciences and engineering fields) are available – $75 for two tickets and a copy of Santa’s First Magical Ride; $85 for 3 tickets and a copy of the book. Family pricing is available by request; call Libby at 206-938-8721 or ask at the door.
Parking: The Youngstown parking lot is free; however, it does fill up. Street parking is available on Delridge.