By BRUCE DENNILL
Santa Clause Is Coming To Town / Directed by Shelley Adriaanzen / Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg
It’s simply smart business for a production company to have a Christmas show with a bit of pop that can be kept in the repertoire for each successive festive season without too much updating being needed. VR Theatrical’s new family musical, Santa Clause Is Coming To Town ticks every basic box with ease, but then sets the bar considerably higher than might be expected thanks to the “holiday fun” and “family-friendly” tags.
The story tweaks the same Santa Clause-centred tale that’s at the core of all similar projects – the man in red is facing some challenges in getting his near-impossible annual task, and some peripheral characters need to step up to make sure that the children of the world aren’t disappointed.
This time, there’s trouble in Santa’s (Tiaan Rautenbach) love life as he feels that his beloved wife Carol (Talia Kodesh, in a welcome return to the stage, and playing Mrs Clause as a smouldering vamp) seems to have fallen out of love with him. This, understandably, sucks the joy out of Christmas for him, but his lack of desire to suit up and get the job done puts the whole enterprise at risk.
An all-singing, all-dancing cast of elves, rebellious decorations and North Pole management types keep the story moving at high pace with a succession of cleverly arranged and beautifully performed Christmas classics, as well as a couple of other pop and soul hits that are appropriate for the story and don’t take away at all from the festive mood.
This foundation is all excellent, but the same could be said for any well-produced production in a similar slot. What sets this production is the quality of the singing and dancing, the latter to sublime, Fosse-tinged choreography by Tandi Meikle. A good portion of the ensemble is comprised of fresh young drama school graduates, and watching their focus, the precision of their movement and the constant engagement with each other and the audience suggests exciting times to come in this sector of South African theatre – and underlines the effectiveness of Shelley Adriaanzen’s direction (that sort of discipline doesn’t happen without a firm hand).
The casting has also brought together a selection of fantastic voices of varying types, each well-matched to the singers’ solos and/or the harmony work they’re responsible for. Again, there are details that should perhaps be de rigueur for any professional production, but sadly, that is not guaranteed to be the case, and it’s particularly noticeable when every aspect of the production is as tight as it is here. No doubt the cast will change with each new annual update of this production, but if this standard can be maintained, Santa Clause Is Coming To Town should – it deserves to – become an institution for families still in Johannesburg over the festive season.