Nestled in a corner of Historic Downtown Apex, the Halle Cultural Arts Center opened two plays this weekend to a full house of locals already in the Christmas spirit. In fact, all showings except the Saturday evening show were sold out before opening night! The Toys Take Over Christmas by Patricia Clapp introduces toys held captive by an evil toymaker who wants to keep them all to himself until the toys learn the meaning of love and decide to escape. After a brief intermission, several of the same actors joined the company of Janet Gardner and Andy Beck‘s* Broadway Santa, a look at what Christmas would be like if Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and the elves and reindeer decided to star in a Broadway musical. Both productions, under the direction of Raleigh Little Theatre’s Kathleen Rudolph, were charming and well-performed.

Although the beginning of The Toys Take Over Christmas faced some lighting issues and faced slow pacing due to a couple of mis-deliveries of lines, the play was endearing and presented a very family-friendly way of exploring the meaning of love. Sean Thornton played a convincing evil toymaker, but Anna Parrish as the adorable rag doll Sunny stole the show with lively and lovable antics, including flopping around the stage because of her under-stuffed legs.

The message of this play shone through especially with the appearance of Logan Powers as the tiny Santa Claus with a trick or two up his sleeve. He received lots of applause just for making his entrance because, well, ’tis the season! This smaller cast of experienced young adults is to be cheered for a solid opening night.

Broadway Santa featured not only a large number of younger actors but also the talents of playwright-Santa-Claus J. Michael Beech and his counterpart Mrs. Claus, Rebecca Leonard. And what would Broadway be without song? This play was full to the brim with fully choreographed Broadway-parodying numbers, including “No Time Like Snow Time” and “We Love You Mr. Hathaway.” Mr. Hathaway, played by Brian Fisher, was a great foil to the fantastic world of the North Pole, introducing Santa Claus “and the gang” to the real-world of New York City. However, arguably the best role in this play was the Stage Manager, played by Clara Zwahr, who delivered a beautifully satirical burnt-out Yankee stage worker.

It was particularly striking to see how everyone, from stage debut-ers to advanced actors, portrayed their characters in their natural setting of the North Pole versus their “stage acting” styles of Broadway. The opening night disasters – intentional, of course – were hilariously timed and interpreted by everyone involved. Andy Beck was spot-on with cheesy, over-the-top choreography and the cast performed it magnificently. The songs are irresistibly catchy and will put a smile – if not hysterical laughter – on everyone’s face. Both plays will continue: Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Limited seating is still available for the Saturday evening performance. This is a pairing of shows not to be missed! For details, see the sidebar.

*Beck’s bio indicates a long-standing relationship with the NC Master Chorale.

Edited/corrected 12/15 with thanks to an alert reader.