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Christmas Musical Review

Get a jump on the busy Christmas season by planning your Christmas program now! Here are our top six program picks to get you on your way.

Ahhh...the dog days of summer -- sitting beside a pool or alongside a lake, sipping on a cool glass of lemonade, a warm breeze blowing with just a hint of fall in the air. Your mind drifts away to exotic places when suddenly, visions of sugarplums dance in your head! "What's this?" you wonder. Then you realize it's the rational side of your brain telling you to get busy; it's time to plan ahead for your Christmas program!

To help you get ahead of the game and get your Christmas program planning underway, we evaluated 23 Christmas musicals on the basis of the following criteria:

• Child-appropriateness -- Can kids easily perform the music and text? Can they understand and follow the story's message or theme?

• Story line -- Does the story make sense? Does it bring the audience into the action and get them interested and involved? Will the story inspire the audience?

• Variety -- Is it a musical, cantata, or a "hymn sing"? Are there narration or drama elements in the story? Are there singing opportunities for individuals and small groups? Does it include choreography for movement, dance, or procession?

• Musicality -- Are there various music types such as ballads, medleys, rap/dance, gospel/spiritual, or traditional Christmas songs? Does it contain songs and accompaniment? Does the music add to, rather than detract from, the essential story?

• Adaptation -- Could it work for a small, medium, or large congregation? Can people add or delete the elements so the program is more workable for their group? Can people adjust the program according to their number of participants, space availability, or budget?

After careful scrutiny, here are our top six picks and a glimpse of each program to help you choose the right one for your Christmas program. So grab that glass of lemonade, find a comfy lawn chair, read through our Christmas musical review, and you'll have your program planned before you know it!


Take a fun-filled journey into the sweetest of all dreams -- a stroll down Candy Cane Lane! Enter the dream world of three siblings as they experience an adventure with Candy Cane Jane and a cast of colorful characters who help them discover how a simple candy cane can tell the story of Jesus.

The music and story line of this production easily capture the hearts of kids and the audience. The drama's message is simple for kids, yet powerful for adults. Simple costuming includes Christmas pajamas. Set-design suggestions range from simple to elaborate and are flexible to fit any budget. Devotional activities and production notes are included in the Director's Accompaniment Edition, and a video is available with ideas for choreography.

Available from Word Music. Director's Accompaniment Edition, $12.95; teacher resource kit, $49.95; video, $29.95; singer edition, $6.95; listening CD, $16.98; split-track CD, $80.00. Call 888-324-9673 or write 3319 West End Ave., Suite 201, Nashville, Tennessee 37203;


Discover a deeper meaning behind the tradition of the Christmas tree and all its trimmings with this simple Christmas program for kids. It's very easy for young children to understand.

This musical includes helpful production notes with basic costuming ideas, easy-to-find props, staging options, and suggestions for teaching the songs. Simple dialogues between carols give the opportunity for many children to have speaking parts without requiring numerous rehearsals. Familiar Christmas carols and simple narrations make this an excellent choice for a Sunday school program, preschool program, or a family Advent celebration.

Available from Brentwood- Benson Music. Singer's book, $4.95; listening CD, $12.98; split-track CD, $55.00. Call 800-846-7664 or write 741 Cool Springs Blvd., Franklin, Tennessee 37067;


This Christmas, it's a mission "possible" as an angelic group of spies sets out on a case dubbed Operation Baby King. Their investigation leads them to the discovery that Jesus came into this world to save all who believe in him.

This instant Christmas pageant is perfect for groups who don't want to put on a large and time-consuming production. Easy to follow and adaptable for a variety of settings, this musical is virtually ready to go. It includes prerecorded spoken dialogue, sound effects, and music. The all-inclusive Director's guide makes this the most affordable program reviewed. There are lots of props and costuming ideas, as well as photocopiable fliers and bulletin inserts. The story line is simple and easy to understand for kids, but provides enough entertainment for adults to enjoy.

Available from Group Publishing, Inc. Director's guide, $24.99. Call 800-447-1070 or write 1515 Cascade Ave., Loveland, Colorado 80538;

Join talk show host Daisy O'Day as she conducts interviews with missionary kids from around the world to see how they celebrate the birth of Jesus in their country. This musical will not only entertain with a variety of cultural Christmas music, but it'll also challenge everyone to tell the Christmas story every day and enlighten people of the importance of missions.

This program offers a variety of options in the area of performance. The Director's Aide and Video is incredibly comprehensive and provides many helps and related activities and devotions. There are 15 to 30 speaking parts and/or nonspeaking parts and a minimum of nine solos. This program would work best with a large group but does offer suggestions for adaptability for smaller groups.

Available from Word Music. Director's Aide and Video (DAV), $59.95; choral book, $6.95; listening CD, $16.98; split-track CD, $80.00. Call 888-324-9673 or write 3319 West End Avenue, Suite 200, Nashville, Tennessee 37203;


This story revolves around the predicament that every holiday traveler fears -- the possibility of being stranded in an airport for Christmas. A news reporter catches a group of stranded kids on camera as they turn their travel obstacles into an opportunity to share with other stranded travelers the real reason for celebrating the season -- Jesus!

This musical is easily adaptable and gives production helps for accommodating either a large or small performing group. A variety of music entertains participants and the audience, and the drama is believable and easy to understand. Solos and speaking parts are indicated in the choral book. Production notes include lighting suggestions and stage diagrams for each scene.

Available from Genevox. Dovetailor (includes teaching materials, rehearsal plans, kickoff party ideas, teaching posters and more), $59.95; choral book, $6.95; listening CD, $15.98; split-track CD, $85.00. Call 800-458-2772 or write 127 Ninth Avenue North, MSN 113, Nashville, Tennessee 37234;

The heavens sing out about the birth of Jesus in this heavenly adaptation of the Christmas story. The "stars" of heaven give their perspective of what happened in the manger, guiding the participants and the audience to the realization that Jesus is the only one who can truly light our way.

This musical is a sure hit for kids who are science buffs. The script has lengthy dialogue that has some difficult scientific language and would be best performed by older children who can add a lot of drama and energy to their performance. Combined with a variety of music and an intriguing drama, this musical gives a unique perspective to the Christmas story.

Available from Lillenas. Director's edition, $9.99, singer's edition, $3.99; production video, $29.99; listening CD, $15.99; split-track CD, $80.00. Call 800-877-0700 or write P.O. Box 419527, Kansas City, Missouri 64141;


Follow these sure-fire tips to ensure that your Christmas pageant is a huge success.

• Plan early. Summer's end or early fall is the perfect time to start reviewing musicals. The key is to know what your kids and audience will enjoy, then select a musical that'll appeal to both. A variety of music that has catchy tunes and a drama that includes humor are usually a sure thing for participant and audience appeal. Set dress rehearsal and performance dates early, and notify everyone involved as soon as possible to avoid potential conflicts. Remember, you'll also need to find sound and light technicians.

• Develop a budget. A musical can get costly once you incorporate all the expenses. Develop a budget that includes all costs such as sets, costumes, music materials, advertising, and program printing. As you review musicals, keep your budget in mind. Check with other local churches to see if they're interested in doing the same musical and would be willing to share sets and costumes. This not only saves dollars, but it also saves that precious gift of time.

• Set a rehearsal schedule. If you're doing a large musical production, begin rehearsals 12 weeks prior to the performance date. Hold rehearsals once a week for 90 minutes. Pick a day of the week when you aren't overloaded with other programs. Remember, rehearsals require a lot of patience and energy.

• Enlist casting agents. If you hold auditions for parts and solos, enlist the help of children's directors from other churches, friends in the community, or experts in the drama field to cast the parts. Offer the "casting agents" guidance only. That way, you won't play favorites, or give the impression that you do.

Get the parents onboard. Ask parents to help with sets, costumes, and phone calling, but close your rehearsals to observers. This allows you and the kids to concentrate on the rehearsal without audience distractions.

• Provide supplemental activities. Have a kickoff party and tie-in the theme of the musical to get kids excited about what they'll be learning and singing about in future rehearsals. Incorporate devotions, crafts, or snacks that complement the message of the musical. Kids won't perform their best if they don't understand the message of the musical.

• Practice to make perfect. Get the listening cassettes, if available, so kids can practice the songs at home or while riding in their family car. Type out the words to songs so parents can practice with their kids at home.

• Expand your horizons. Check with local malls or shopping centers to see if they allow groups to sing over the holidays. This is a great way to reach out to the community, and it gives kids a chance to spread the message of Jesus.

• Have a post-performance party. Everyone has worked hard, so now it's time to celebrate. Have a birthday cake for Jesus, display pictures taken at rehearsals, watch a video of the performance, and give special recognition to those who helped. Don't forget to thank all of the parents, too! Give each kid a small gift as a momento of their performance and hard work.

Carmen Kamrath

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