As every teacher knows, being at least one step ahead of the game is vital for staying sane. That’s why Christmas is on the agenda from a planning point of view early into the autumn term. You may already be thinking about staging your own version of the Nativity…
The Nativity is one of the central stories of the Christian faith, and schools around the world perform it to proud parents every Christmas. But which way do you go? Do you take the traditional route, or go upbeat and hit the fun button. I think there’s definitely room for both, but if I were unsure about which route to take then I wouldn’t have to look very far to find ready-made, easy-to-stage shows that tick every box.
Introducing Out of the Ark Music, which has just released two fabulous modern Nativities that have the Christmas message at their heart. First up, the glitzy Lights, Camel, Action! – the Nativity Strictly Come Dancing style. Written by a highly experienced musician and composer, it’s wonderfully fun and is perfect for the 4–9 years age group. It’s based around the idea of the BBC – the Bethlehem Broadcasting Company –recording a special edition of their dance show in the very stable where Jesus was born. The stable is basically transformed into a dance studio, and the cast is made up of all the traditional Nativity characters, who return to Bethlehem to recall their roles in the miraculous Christmas story.
Lights, Camel, Action! comes with a script, piano music and lyrics, together with a character list and notes on staging for a 40-minute show. It also comes with a CD featuring all the songs, which have been professionally arranged and sung by a children’s choir. There are backing tracks included too and a ‘Words on Screen’ version, so children can follow the words as they sing.
The character list for this production includes hosts, floor managers, a voiceover, a donkey, camels, wise men, shepherds, sheep, innkeepers, backing singers, Mary and Joseph, townspeople and more.
The three judges are Caesar (with a nod to Craig Revel Horwood), the donkey and the innkeeper’s wife. It’s perfect for a large production, with 21 speaking parts available that you could easily adapt. The dances that make up this production have fun written all over them, and the website suggests choreography and includes hugely helpful dance videos for all of them should you need inspiration. The dances include a Nazareth line dance, a Camel funk, Disco Star, the Innkeeper’s Tango and a Bethlehem hand jive. The script is written in a style that many children will be familiar with as it follows all the ‘Strictly’ clichés and one-liners that get the crowd going. It’s cheesy and wrapped in tinsel, but it works beautifully for getting the message across.
Christmas Counts is another brilliantly inventive musical Nativity for young children, a 20-minute masterpiece of thoughtful fun. It tells the traditional story of the Nativity from the perspective of a group of census-takers around Bethlehem on Christmas night, carrying out Caesar’s commands that everyone in his empire should be counted. They count every man, woman, child and house, and almost fall asleep counting sheep. They couldn’t, of course, count all the angels, but once they had counted everyone there was just one person left to be counted: Jesus.
This Nativity is far more traditional in spirit and delivers the message that just as rich and poor found Jesus in the stable, everyone can find him today and that Christmas counts for everyone. There are eight songs as part of the resource, and the book comes with a character list, some helpful curriculum links, a modest script, music score and audio CD with vocal tracks and professional backing tracks. This also comes with a Words on Screen option.
Christmas Counts might not have the same showbiz pizzazz, but what it does offer is professional production, quality songs, marvellous music and a well-developed script with percussion SFX suggestions and ideas for extension work. This is a safe bet.
Verdict: Encore! Encore! Both Lights, Camel, Action! and Christmas Counts provide you with the chance to stage a really polished performance full of creativity, and starting at £19.95 you’d be Christmas crackers to try and write your own version when these catchy off-the shelf musicals have been crafted and created by professional musicians. They are both colourful, diverse and inventive, with the power to breathe life, energy and fun into your Christmas production. Out of the Ark has two more quality resources in its stable. Hurrah!
Reviewed by: John Dabell