‘Christmas’ duo lure audiences

Holiday shows may bloom as evergreens

In the search for new shows that could become holiday perennials, two Connecticut theaters this month are offering high-profile premieres, both of which are drawing outside interest that just might transform those shows into seasonal evergreens.

Paula Vogel’s “A Civil War Christmas” bowed at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater earlier this month, while Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam is now running with “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas,” producing the show based on the 1977 HBO special in association with the Jim Henson Co.

No deals have been inked for transfers, but reviews for “A Civil War Christmas” and box office response for both shows have attracted early attention, along with speculation on future lives for the shows. Charles Isherwood in the New York Times called the Vogel play “an ambitious, richly detailed and beautifully mounted new seasonal offering.” Reviews will appear Friday for “Emmet Otter.”

Both theaters expect to see the works return for holiday engagements, especially given the sizable investment each has made in the initial offering.

Kent Thompson, a.d. of Denver Center Theater, said he plans on producing Vogel’s play at his theater, though it’s too early to know when in the next few years that would be.

Other theater reps have been shuttling to New Haven as well, according to outgoing Long Wharf managing director Joan Channick. Commercial producer Chase Mishkin added enhancement money to the “Civil War” production — which has a 14-member cast and musical elements — but with no strings attached, said Channick.

Even before “Emmet Otter” opened at Goodspeed, there was interest in that show, no doubt due to the Henson branding. (The show features actors as principal characters and puppets as the rest of the populace for the fanciful tuner, with music by Paul Williams.)

Legit and TV producers and managers have beaten the critics to this week’s opening, but it’s too early to predict any next-step discussions, said Michael Price, executive producer for Goodspeed Musicals.

Brian Henson, co-CEO of the company his late father created, said he hopes to see the show on other stages, but since this is the company’s first venture into legit at this level, Henson said he is taking things step by step.

The tuner cost $2 million, making it Goodspeed’s most expensive production, though half of those costs were shouldered by the Henson Co., which created the puppetry and costuming.

It was also a gamble for Goodspeed to put on “Emmet Otter” as a nonsubscription holiday add-on. But sales have been at near capacity (in the mid-90% range), and box office has been “through the roof,” according to Price. Whatever the work’s future outside of Connecticut, Price’s intention is to keep the show as a Goodspeed perennial.

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