After the obstacles families have faced in recent years, an all-ages show filled with laughs and low stakes like “Paddington Saves Christmas” could be exactly what we need to kick off the Christmas season.
In this touring show, at Seattle Children’s Theater through the end of the year, two actors perform opposite a large Paddington Bear puppet, which requires three puppeteers to move through the 70-minute production. Characters and many plot elements are drawn from classic British Michael Bond picture books, but compared to its understated tone, the play, created and directed by Jonathan Rockefeller, is far more raucous and comedic.
Rockefeller (creator of the stage adaptations “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Sesame Street the Musical”) created an original story for the play “Paddington Gets in a Jam,” which opened Off Broadway in 2019 and closed with the rest of the world. from the theater in March 2020. Now revived for a national tour, “Paddington Gets in a Jam” has been dressed in a Christmas sweater for its month-long holiday run in Seattle.
The basic plot remains unchanged: Paddington tries to help his grumpy neighbor Mr. Curry, played by Kenon Veno, prepare for a visit from the ever-disapproving great-aunt Matilda, played by Casey Andrews. The accident-prone bear proceeds to destroy Mr. Curry’s house (a beautiful dollhouse designed to hide puppeteers Kyle Mahoney, Anthony White, and Ricky Downes III) room by room in his attempts to tidy up. But now, tinsel is decorating Mr. Curry’s living room and Paddington is baking a Christmas cake.
That’s enough Christmas spirit to create a festive air and raise the stakes at Great Aunt Matilda’s visit. But there’s no “Christmas cancelled” nadir and no heartfelt Linus monologue in the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Nothing is fixed at the end of the story; Christmas is saved simply because Paddington has made Great-Aunt Matilda laugh. And that’s as close to a moral as you’ll find. “Paddington Saves Christmas” is here to entertain, and the humor is aimed squarely at its intended audience: children aged 3-10 who may feel empowered by the fact that they know more about baking cakes and using a vacuum cleaner than Paddington does.
Adults will still find a lot to enjoy in the production. The set is wonderful, and the puppet theater is impressive. Paddington’s frequent refrain, “You’ve got to look like paper,” provides a fun excuse to present the bear in numerous cute costumes (including his iconic pea coat and raincoat outfits). There is certainly an element of nostalgia as well. After all, Paddington has been entertaining children for 60 years, so many adult viewers have fond childhood memories of Paddington’s family antics, like applying wallpaper glue with his paws.
But for the adults, watching the children watch the play will probably be the greatest joy. The shrieks of childish laughter that swept through the theater from the youngsters’ first encounters with live falls and venerable pie-in-your-face gags would make even Great-Aunt Matilda smile.
On opening night, when Mr. Curry cartoonishly proclaimed, “This is an emergency!” a small voice near the front row exclaimed, “Oh no!” And anyone who heard it shared a moment of peace and goodwill.