Jerry Herman and Mark Saltzman Adapting Mrs. Santa Claus, the Musical for the Stage

By Kenneth Jones
14 Oct 2004

A stage version of the Jerry Herman TV musical, "Mrs. Santa Claus," is a draft closer to reality, said librettist Mark Saltzman and songwriter Jerry Herman, who collaborated on the 1996 television event.



Saltzman and Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist Herman both told Playbill On-Line that work on hammering out a final script for stock and regional licensing won't begin in earnest until 2005, after Herman has seen the openings of fall 2004's Mack & Mabel (by Goodspeed Musicals) and La Cage aux Folles (on Broadway).

Saltzman said he has a draft of the stage script of Mrs. Santa Claus prepared, "and we're both pretty happy with this initial draft." He and Herman have discussed it and are planning to move ahead. Herman told Playbill On-Line he might even write a couple of new songs to fill it out.

"He has to take the lead with that," Saltzman said with a laugh, "but I can coax him a little bit."

"There are regional theatres all over the country that are dying for new material," Herman said. "I think that'll fill a lot of theatres."

The librettist said he has identified a place within the tale to reinsert a song that had been cut from the TV movie. It's a quartet for Irish cops called "Forever and a Day."

The challenge of putting the movie on stage, the writers said, is how do you have a flying sleigh and reindeer?

Prior to getting it published for licensing, the writers will aim Mrs. Santa Claus, the Musical at producers and artistic directors who may wish to give the family friendly, multicultural show a major, bells-and-whistles production.

"We want to present it to theatre owners and the road people, and see if they want to do it as a tour or as individual productions," Herman said.

Saltzman's Tin Pan Alley Rag, a musical about the ragtime-era Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin, is being revised to resurface commercially. He also penned book and lyrics for the Neapolitan-flavored Romeo and Bernadette, seen at Paper Mill Playhouse and Coconut Grove Playhouse. His work also includes Mr. Shaw Goes to Hollywood, a play about George Bernard Shaw's brief visit to L.A. In the 1930s (he stayed for three hours and had enough, Saltzman said).

Herman, of course, is the Tony Award-winning songwriter whose hits include Hello, Dolly!; Mame; and La Cage aux Folles, as well as Dear World, Mack & Mabel and Milk and Honey. He also penned a score for Miss Spectacular, a Vegas aimed show for which a concept cast album was produced and released by DRG.

There was talk a year ago that Mrs. Santa Claus might appear as a Christmas pantomime in London in 2004, but that has not materialized. Saltzman admitted that he would like to see Mrs. Santa Claus done annually in theatres and become "an American Christmas Carol."

Ever since it first aired in 1996, the original TV musical starring Angela Lansbury as the liberation-hungry wife of Kris Kringle, has prompted speculation (mostly from fans) about its viability as a stage property. Screen-to-stage transfers are not rare: Look at Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Fame and Footloose.

In the story (which is an original one, created by Saltzman), Mrs. Santa Claus steals Santa's sleigh in an effort to live a little (she's tired of being "the invisible wife" and wants "a change in her life"). Mrs. Claus crash-lands in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the early 19th century, where she gets mixed up with immigrant lovers Marcello and Sadie (Italian boy meets Jewish girl), suffragists and an evil toymaker named Tavish, who is running a sweatshop where kids are overworked. (The contrast with the happy elf workers in the North Pole is clear, said Saltzman, and the kids and elves would likely be double-cast on stage. In the movie, Michael Jeter played the head elf.)

The score from composer-lyricist Herman was released on a soundtrack, though it isn't what some would call a full-length musical theatre score.

"It was done for television, with all those commercials," Herman said, "so we had to be frugal about how much we put into it."

The score includes "Avenue A," "Whistle" and the title song, among others. The CD is no longer in print.

Saltzman said the new draft pushes the lovers Marcello and Sadie to the forefront more than the film. There are multiple plots going on in the movie musical.

Saltzman said he and Herman will look at the new script "page by page" in 2005. After La Cage opens at the Marquis Theatre, Herman said he's going to treat himself to a luxurious vacation.

The TV movie is available on DVD.