Holiday Musical Roundup – Reviews and Ideas!
It is that time of year when many of us buckle down and start preparations on a Christmas/Holiday/Winter program. Some people pull out favorite carols, some only talk about winter, some pull out their Santa stuits, and some of us do multicultural programs that feature traditions from around the world.
And then sometimes you’re just stumped. Maybe you’ve done a lot of different things over the years and are pooped out and not sure what avenue to take this year. I thought I would write a little bit about some of the “canned musical” programs that I’ve done in the past and explain what I liked or disliked. It’s always great to get new ideas, right? If you like John Jacobson, you’ll probably like this post. And just to be clear, I’ve not been paid or given money but Music K8 or Hal Leonard or anyone else. I’m not promoting these shows for money. I’m promoting them because I used these shows in the past and was SO PLEASED with how they turned out. Read on for some of my thoughts and some “This worked for me and might work for you too” moments.
A Holiday Moosical
This was the first show I ever did with students. Not just the first Christmas/Holiday program, but the first concert ever. I had SO MUCH FUN with this one and I think kids did too. The music is catchy and fun and there are some really great opportunities for riser choreography. Heres a link to the bulletin board I made to go along with the “Moosical.”
The story (from Hal Leonard): “Marty the Moose wants to be a reindeer! Those famous flying holiday helpers/reindeer have all the fun – especially traveling around the world on Christmas Eve delivering gifts to all the good boys and girls. But everyone knows that moose are simply too big and heavy to fly! Who ever heard of a Christmas Moose anyway? Join a castload of holiday characters and Father Time, as they share the tale of a moose who wanted to fly, and how miracles can happen if only we believe!” This is absolutely a Christmas program, no getting around it. Marty the Moose wants to pull Santa’s sleigh, so it’s sort of hard to take out the Christmas references if you’re at a school that doesn’t allow that (though they could be downplayed I suppose).
Spoiler, Marty flies toward the end. No need to get a fly system for your stage, there are suggestions of how to get your student playing Marty to “fly” by using the choreography of the kids on stage to mimic his flying. There’s a great song called “I Can Fly if You Believe in Me,” and another favorite called “Roots” where a chorus of Christmas Trees sing to Marty the Moose. I also LOVED “Everybody Can Sing” which is a catchy little song that teaches how everyone can join the fun of music. Kids kids so mimic the “songs” that animals all around the world sing and teach Marty that while not everyone can fly, everyone can be a great musician.I used this program for my second and third graders and it worked perfectly. The music was wonderfully suited for their voices (as far as I can remember) and there were also some opportunities for harmony and partner songs. Easy script/lines if you want to use them. I suggest that you buy the CD, it’s worth it! Great backing tracks and fun for kids to hear! And one more thing, I love the running grammar joke about how the plural of moose was Moose not Mooses. Hilarious!
A “Bear-y” Merry Holiday
Another musical from John Jacobson and John Higgins that was a HUGE hit with my kiddos. This worked out perfectly for my second and third graders. There are hints of the holidays and a few references to Santa that could be pulled out if need be. Cute show and lots of jokes and puns about bears, what bears do, and the many different kinds of bears. Heres a link to the bulletin board I made to go along with the “Bear-y Merry Holiday.”
The story (from Hal Leonard): “The Polar Bears are throwing a bear-y big holiday celebration at the North Pole and their guests from around the world are starting to arrive. But what is taking the Pandas so long? The wait is becoming un-bear-able! Join in the festive panda-monium when the bear-y small Pandas finally arrive in true Vaudeville style and the party begins.”
This show was recommended to me from a good friend in my music department in Kansas City. He had done the show with great success at his school. He had made about 100 sets of “bear ears” by taking printed bear ears and fixing them onto pipe cleaners. I had the kids dress in black, and brown, and white and then they got to all put on a pair of “ears” and it was amazingly cute!
One thing I added to this show was the Panda choreography. I took a bunch of paper plates and had kids turn them into bear faces. Then when we did the song “Panda-monium” we added a little choreography that was sort of vaudeville. It was super cute and fun for the kiddos to try out!
Highlight of the show: A bunch of Grizzlies who “rap” about how big and bad and angry they are in a song called “Jingle Bears.” When they get called out by the other bears they try and act nicer but eventually morph back into the rap that goes something like “Jingle Bears, Jingle Bears, Jingle all the way. We’re big and strong and powerful and that is why we say, HEY! Jingle Bears, Jingle Bears, We’ve got stuff to do. Now watch out if you see us, cuz’ we just might munch on you!” This song is the perfect reason why you need to get the backing tracks. Hilarious and the kids LOVE them! Also watching a hoard of kids in fake bear ears trying to look like angry grizzlies was a highlight of my year.
December Round the World
Believe it or not, I did another show by John Jacobson. This show was super fun because it celebrates winter traditions from around the world including Christmas, Las Posadas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, St. Nicholas Day, and more. There is no getting around the holiday references for this musical, but you get to display traditions from many different religions and ideas. Sidebar: This is the ONLY show I’ve encountered where the writers have included a Kwanzaa song that I actually like. The song, “Jump At the Sun,” is fun and festive and outlines the core beliefs of Kwanzaa. So many other shows/songs that I have come across include songs to honor Kwanzaa that don’t seem to really do justice to the traditions and history of Kwanzaa. However, I love the Kwanzaa song in this musical and the kids do too. Heres a link to the bulletin board I made to go along with the “December Round.”
The description (from Hal Leonard): “Celebrate December traditions and discover the special preparations for the Chinese New Year; the German St. Nicholas Day tradition of a pickle hidden in the Tannenbaum; the seven principles of Kwanzaa from African ancestors; the miracle and lights of Jewish Hanukkah; the festive atmosphere of Mexico’s Las Posadas; and Christmas American-style. Share the universal messages of peace, hope, and goodwill in your school and community throughout the entire year.”
This was a lot of music to learn and included some foreign language. In fact the opening song is great because it starts out with a theme “December Around the World,” and then sings the same melody/words in Spanish, then an African dialect, then Mandarin, and then again in English. Super cool how they did this. One thing I did to make this easier was teach some of the songs to a selected group of students. For this program I had 8 homerooms of kids up on stage and so I decided to teach one song to only four of the homerooms. Then, the other homerooms got to learn another song all on their own. It was an easy way to break up the show and teach more music with less stress.
The highlight of the show was the Hanukkah song called Miracle of Lights. I bought a bunch of little electric tea lights from the Dollar Tree and secretly handed them out to kiddos. We lowered the lights in the auditorium and sang the song with the flickering light of the menorah at the front of the stage. Then at a certain part of the song the kids pulled the little tea lights out of their pockets and turned them, holding them aloft. The audience members told me how moved they were and how much they loved the effect. It was really cool and a fun, unexpected twist!
I did this program with my fourth and fifth graders and cut out a song or two just because of length. With the script/lines in-between songs it really does stretch out to about 40 minutes like the description says. I would do this show again in a heartbeat though I might try to include all the songs this time.
Fiesta! The Legend Of The Poinsettia
Here’s another show that I loved. I worked for 4 years in a school that had a really high Mexican American population. We had something like 87% of our students identified as English Language Learners and most of those spoke Spanish as their first language. So, when you have that sort of population, you want to put on a show that helps you connect with parents. This show RESONATED with parents because it revolved around a folk story from Mexico, had some Spanish-language songs/moments in the show, and was perfectly aligned with what they remembered growing up. When so many of your students’ parents speak ONLY Spanish, you want to try and include some songs that they can understand. This show was perfect for that! The kids like the show and it was a huge huge hit with parents. Heres a link to the bulletin board I made to go along with the “Fiesta.”
The description (from Music K8): “As Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) approaches, all of the villagers celebrate the wonderful traditions of Las Posadas – from the nightly candlelit processions to the breaking of the piñata. But young Alicia is troubled, as she has no gift to present in the plaza on Christmas Eve. She learns that giving from her heart is magical, as her lowly gift blossoms into the fiery poinsettia plant.”
You really cannot avoid the Christmas themes in this show. They are central to the show. This worked for me and my situation because my administration and I agreed that it was good for our school population AND because it was all based on a folk tradition and folk story. I performed this with fourth and fifth graders, but I think that you could do it with younger grades and not have trouble pulling it off.A couple highlights. The song “What Can I Give” is super sweet and is all about Alicia learning to give whatever she can even though she is poor. She learned to give love and give willingly from her heart. These’s a chance for a solo here and the little girl that we chose to play Alicia in this scene was fantastic! I also loved “March of the Children” and I added ribbon wands to the choreography. I used the recorder cleaning sticks and some red and green ribbon to make my own ribbon wands and they were a HUGE hit and made the song so visually spectacular!
The Big Chill! A Snow Day Musical
The latest in my long line of winter musicals. Last year I did this program with second graders at my old school and performed it in late Spring (but here in Michigan we can sing about snow pretty much any time of year and the subject matter is still relevant!) but this year at my new school I plan to do it in December. It is a winter musical to be sure, but there are absolutely no references to any of the winter holidays. In fact, this show is all about SNOW DAYS!
The description (from Music K8): “It’s not always just the students who hope for a snow day at your school, right? In this fun-filled mini-musical with a witty rhyming script, the students and the faculty are both pleasantly surprised to learn that they share this common wintertime wish. The Big Chill can be used from November through March and it is adaptable for use as a multi-generational cast by using both students and faculty from your school.”
This show is AMAZINGLY ADORABLE and all about kids and teachers both wishing for snow days. There’s a song about snow days where the kids sing a song about falling temperatures and cold weather coming in that sounds pretty disco. There’s another song where wistful teachers sing about “A Quiet Day at Home.” For this song I have hopes this year to form a faculty choir that sings the actual words and have the kids sing “ooohs” in the background. Another song talks about “Seven Feet of Snow” and how much we wish for that pile-up of wintery white. Super cute and so many awesome opportunities for fun!
Ironically last year my concert prep was stopped FIVE DAYS because we had FIVE snow days in the two weeks leading up to the show. It was crazy. There was a whole song that I had to pull out because we didn’t have enough time to rehearse. To save the day, I took the scarf activity from Artie Almeida’s “Parachutes, Ribbons, and Scarves Oh My!” book where kids dance with scarves to the “Trepak” from the Nutcracker. I added a little line about “oh wow, it’s starting to snow!” and gave all the kids light blue or white scarves to use. It was adorable and added a fun movement element that was a total hit!