Another Night Before Christmas, a two-character holiday musical that premiered in America’s heartland and has been seen in nearly 20 productions around the country, gets its U.K. premiere at Bridge House Theatre in London Nov. 28-Dec. 23. The whimsical musical by American writers Sean Grennan (book and lyrics) and Leah Okimoto (music) features Olivier Award-winning actor George Maguire and “Britain’s Got Talent 2016” star Rachael Wooding (We Will Rock You, Evita, Jersey Boys).
In Another Night Before Christmas, according to production notes, “it’s Christmas Eve and for Karol — a 30-something, overworked and underpaid social worker — the Festive Season can’t be over soon enough. To her, this time of year is full of over-indulgence, overpriced everything and unfulfilled hopes and wishes. Walking home from her office party she meets a scraggly-bearded, apparently homeless man to whom she gives her bag of leftover office party food. Thinking nothing more of it, she settles in for her ‘non’ Christmas Eve, wanting a truly silent night. When the man from earlier appears in her flat, questions arise — like, could Santa Claus really have come to town?”
Local flavor is added with voiceovers by Rachel Tucker (Wicked, The Last Ship, Communicating Doors) and Oliver Tompsett (Wicked, Rock of Ages, Mamma Mia).
Rob Harris produces the one-piano, one-set musical. Guy Retallack directs.
Another Night Before Christmas had its world premiere in 2007 by the now-defunct American Heartland Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri.
Lyricist-librettist Grennan told me, “I had been working at American Heartland Theatre fairly regularly at the time. One night, I had dinner with the artistic director there, Paul Hough, who had done another show of mine, a musical revue, Married Alive! He was lamenting that at Christmas the bigger theatres always snapped up A Christmas Carol and the smaller theatres had to scramble. So we kicked some ideas around and then I contacted my composer/collaborator/friend, Leah Okimoto, and she and I started talking about a story. The inspiration for the show is kind of an amalgam of those ideas although there are some things that are unique to me: the longing for meaning at the holidays, occasional family estrangement, wanting to help the homeless, etc. And then we just went from there. Also, I’ll admit that, like A Christmas Carol, we were attracted to the idea of a character transforming from cynicism to hope and joy.”
For the Bridge House run, and for future U.K. productions, the show’s references have been reset to reflect England. The role of “The Guy” (played by Maguire, who won the Supporting Actor Olivier Award for Sunny Afternoon) has been changed from a homeless, portly, middle-aged man to a handsome, homeless, younger man. “This was easily explained without changing much of the script and affected their relationship a bit as he now seemed more like a possible love interest,” Grennan said.
The U.S. and U.K. versions are licensed by Playscripts, Inc. The musical has had 19 productions in the U.S. including multi-year runs at Chanhassen Theatre in Minneapolis and the Barter Theatre in Virginia.
In addition to the London run of Another Night Before Christmas, there are two U.S. productions in 2016: at The Broadway Palm Theatre in Fort Myers, Florida, and Act 1 Theatre Productions in Puyallup, Washington. Sierra Repertory in California will present the show in 2017.
Learn more about Another Night Before Christmas at its official website.
Learn more about playwright-lyricist-librettist Sean Grennan. Grennan shared a little more about Another Night Before Christmas.
Share some ways that you and your U.K. producer bridged the culture gap between the U.S. and U.K.?
Sean Grennan: The obvious ones were making all of the pop references more U.K.-centric. For instance: instead of the Kansas City Chiefs we went with a local football (soccer) club in London. We have a weather report in the show that they had an actual London weatherperson of note record for them. Certainly anytime an American celeb was mentioned we made a substitute. Some turns of phrase are a little different for instance: “not so much” is more American so we swapped that out. So basically idioms and pop references were changed. Pleasantly, the themes of the show about finding your joy, helping the poor, estranged family ties, those things are pretty universal and traveled “across the pond” intact.
What did you first “see” when creating Another Night Before Christmas? Did you know St. Nick would be an element? Did you know romance would be part of it?
Sean Grennan: I had been attracted to the idea of a “locked room” show, so I actually made the room get locked with a new security system that goes into “lock down.” The problem with that of course is that it limits your actions a bit so I had to have their relationship keep shifting as they spent more time together, starting with terror at this intruder and progressing to sympathy for this poor man who thinks he’s St. Nick. We didn’t end up actually having a romance between them but, as I mentioned, changing the ages and types, put that in the air a bit. It’s a change that I may offer to future productions as an option.
Did you know from the beginning it would be a two-character show?
Sean Greenan: At first I thought it would be more folks. It’s challenging to do a musical with just two people and a piano (we also have a version with a small combo). If nothing else, you don’t get a very big sound even when the two of them are singing full out. But I think it also contributes to the charm of the piece and we found our way through it.
Is there a “carol” that you and Leah wrote, thinking it might have a life beyond the show?
Sean Grennan: I think if there was, it’s “Poles Apart.” It’s ostensibly a song about being estranged from your family but several people have pointed out how relevant it is now considering our very divisive political climate. It’s sad, sort of sweet, and has longing for healing in it. Another song that is more fun and could live on perhaps is “Big Guy in the House.”
Growing up, did you see holiday shows as a kid? Did you attend A Christmas Carol with your family?
Sean Grennan: I saw A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago almost every year when I was growing up. My sister, Tricia, was in the cast for several years and it was a fine production that has continued to this day. We caught some of the other shows as well but, like Kansas City, the big dog was A Christmas Carol. (This was before A Christmas Story had made it to the stage.) Chicago now has even more to offer including John Reeger’s The Christmas Schooner, which has become a perennial favorite out there.