Review by Daz Gale
The musical adaptation of The Wizard Of Oz is entertaining audiences in Leicester this Christmas ahead of a West End transfer next year. It’s not the only one of L Frank Baums stories getting the musical treatment this festive season though as a new musical based on his story The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus has received its world premiere at The Lowry in Salford. Could this follow in that other iconic shows footsteps to become another firm favourite on stage?
Based on L Frank Baum’s children’s book from 1902, Claus The Musical is the magical origin story of Santa Claus as we chart his discovery in a magical Forest and how he learns to spread kindness to children as he grows up leading up to the legendary figure known all over the world today.
The lead role of Claus is played by Harry Winchester who is absolutely wonderful stepping into his jolly shoes. Full of boundless energy, he delivers a confident and charismatic performance, showing off a stunning singing voice and remarkable stage presence. The undoubted standout of the show, he manages to charm each and every member of the audience, assuring us he will be one to watch in the years to come.
Georgie Buckland showcases a beautiful voice and sweetness as Claus’ adoptive mother Necile while Jessica Lim thrills as Shiegra. Corrine Priest is a highlight as The Fairy Queen while Junior Delius and Jazz Evans as AK and Awgwa have an interesting dynamic which is played up to a panto-esque rivalry. A sensational supporting cast ensure there is no weak link on that stage in a show that is bursting with talent.
As good as the cast are, the material they have to work with lets the show down somewhat. Baum’s story has been adapted for the stage by Simon Warne, but unfortunately tonally it’s all over the place. While seemingly aimed solely at children, the material feels a bit too old for the audience it is aiming at and simultaneously too young for adults in the audience with not enough to keep them invested. While other similar shows manage to cater to various audiences of all ages with their story, this feels a bit too inconsistent and often aimless at what it is trying to be and who it is intended to be for. The story itself feels eerily similarly to The Jungle Book with not enough variance in this adaptation to distinguish it from a very similar story (admittedly not involving Santa though).
The writing also feels at odds with its direction. While preshow entertainment involving the cast interacting with the audience doesn’t fail to bring a smile to your face, it feels a lot younger than what follows aimed at the contents of the show. Baffling direction choices which allows you to see seemingly dramatic exits… followed by actors sheepishly limping off the stage and choreography that doesn’t do the cast or the contents justice repeatedly makes you feel this is a show whose full potential has not been realised yet.
For a show that wants to entertain children, the design elements are also a confusing choice – far too muted in colour and no exciting enough to retain the interest of younger children. Even the patchwork outfit Claus wears never grows into the bright red iconic outfit we all associate with him, aside from a red cloak he drapes over him. As a big kid at heart, I longed to see Claus transform into this legendary figure and couldn’t help but feel disappointed that the show didn’t end with him resembling the iconic image we all know Santa to be. The use of shadow puppets never quite impacts in the way it would hope, all feeling a bit too shaky and not impressive enough to witness.
One more successful element of Claus The Musical is the music in itself. With music and lyrics from Andy Collyer, they boast a handful of fantastic numbers. Highlights include a rousing act one finale ‘A Mothers Love’ performed flawlessly by Georgie Buckland, the mesmerising ‘The Miracle Of Christmas’ and Claus’ big solo ‘No More Time’. This hugely talented cast relish getting their teeth around the musical numbers which fare better than the dialogue throughout the show.
Claus The Musical was a show I was deeply excited for personally. While it has all the right elements to be a truly sensational piece of theatre, in its current form it’s not quite there yet. A bit wobbly in all respects, confused and underwhelming in its execution, it feels like a show that hasn’t been able to find its own identity. A fantastic cast and a handful of lovely songs still make this an entertaining show that young children will no doubt enjoy, though perhaps not remember for too long afterwards. More work needs to go into this show in the future to ensure it has a long and successful life. For that to happen though, it needs to add a lot more magic and spirit.
Claus plays at The Lowry in Salford until 8th January 2023. Tickets from www.thelowry.com
Photos by Pamela Raith