1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
As long as we're capitalizing on valuable properties like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Christmas Story, we might as well at least think about Rudolph. I don't know anyone who hasn't seen the classic Rankin/Bass stop-motion movie, and if there's an American kid over the age of 3 who doesn't know all the words to the song, I would like to know how. The score of the Rudolph musical would include the Gene Autry song, the catchy tunes from the film, and hopefully some really good original songs that could become new holiday classics (I would love a Bumble-centric number myself).
How would you create the characters from the Rudolph world, many of whom are animals and toys? Have you ever seen the stage musical version of The Lion King? The puppetry involved is nothing less than awe-inspiring, and that style deserves another application. Instead of a stampede of African animals coming down the aisles, imagine a parade of misfit toys. Now that's what I call some Christmas magic.
2. The Nightmare Before Christmas
What I love about this movie is that it puts a new spin on the Christmas aesthetic and lets us examine our Christmas traditions through new eyes. It's already a musical film, so the score has some great source material to start with. And the vividness of Halloweentown and Christmastown are a set designer's dream. The only potential problem would be translating impossibly proportioned characters like the rail-thin (literally) Jack Skellington into a live performer. But it really isn't as difficult as it seems (see Disney World's go at it).
Christmas is dominated by genuine, wholehearted joy, cheer, and jolliness. The Grinch comes close to presenting a counterpoint to this sentiment, but he is a one-sided, cartoonish stab at it. The melancholy twist of Nightmare is a refreshing spin on the holiday story and a live musical version would have throngs of emo teenagers banging down the stage doors from October through December (longer than most holiday shows can run). Let's make it happen and give Tim Burton fans a reason to rejoice while they wait for the Beetlejuice sequel.
3. The Elf on the Shelf
You found him in the Christmas tree. You found him in the dog bowl. You found him in the liquor cabinet. Why not find this creepy little character that children inexplicably love in a live show? Considering the success of Elf the Musical, there is no doubt an audience for Santa's little helpers. The story could center on a family who adopts an elf and eagerly awaits the daily search for their little friend until one child decides to test its magical limitations by touching it, thereby stripping it of its power to fly back to the North Pole each night. The resulting quest to restore their elf's magic and get the children back on the nice list has the potential for epic status.
Casting this show correctly would be crucial to its success. Alan Cumming (Cabaret) has the quirky edge to play the elf and the musical chops to perform a stirring lament about losing his Christmas magic. Ashley Brown could use her Mary Poppins experience to portray the matriarch of the family while Patrick Page (no stranger to holiday musicals after playing The Grinch himself on Broadway) could deliver a delightful performance as the curmudgeonly father skeptical of whimsical holiday traditions.
4. Frosty the Snowman
Right up there with Rudolph, Frosty is one of the most popular holiday characters (and what happens when they team up is legend), although the lyrics to his song aren't quite as ingrained in young minds (the second half eludes me...) In any case, his snow-centric story has more of a generic "holiday" appeal than more strictly Christmas-oriented traditions, so the potential audience is even bigger. Who isn't enchanted by a good winter wonderland?
As far as execution in a live show, I imagine Frosty himself being made up like the title character in Shrek the Musical. The stuffed fat suit and prosthetic makeup would make a fine snowman (and would be a heck of a lot more durable than snow). The story is maybe a little thin, but perhaps a two-hour show could incorporate elements from Frosty Returns (after intermission) as well. And the finishing touch: dust the audience with real snow (you gotta have a gimmick).
5. Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer
There are some people who absolutely can not stand this song. But controversy can be a very good thing in the entertainment business (whether you love it or hate it, you've definitely of it, haven't you?). I never would have imagined this as a fully fleshed out story if it weren't for the 2000 animated special that actually built a world around the Elmo 'n' Patsy hit. I was skeptical when I heard about it, but I have a soft spot for holiday specials, so I actually enjoyed it.
The campy nature of this song calls for a similarly stylized treatment in a stage show. Finding out what really happened to Grandma is a hook that could really work. I think it would do well by taking a note from A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, a playful mystery caper musical with very colorful characters. Younger children would love the wacky characters and goofy situations, and maybe there could be some artfully hidden innuendo to unexpectedly delight the parents (like all good kid shows have).
Which of your favorite stories would you like to see as the next holiday musical? Let us know in the comments!