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Local actors step into Santa's suit for Alban play

Courtesy photo
Ethan Lyvers (right, with Olivia McCoy and Madison McNeil) plays Santa Claus as a young man in the Alban Arts Center's production of "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus." Based on the book by L. Frank Baum, the play tells Santa's life story and includes three other actors in the role.

WANT TO GO?

"The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus"

WHERE: Alban Arts Center

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Dec. 20-21, 2 p.m. Sunday and Dec. 22

TICKETS: Adults $15, seniors and children $10

INFO: Call 304-721-8896 or visit www.albanartscenter.com

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's no way around it. John Johnson sounded undeniably jolly. Even over the phone, you can almost imagine the belly of St. Alban's official Santa Claus shaking like the proverbial "bowl full of jelly."

Once again, Johnson is in another holiday production. This time around, he's one of the stars of the Alban Arts Center's production of "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus."

It's not exactly a stretch for him.

"I'm always in Santa Claus form," the 36-year-old said, chuckling.

The show opens Friday at the Alban Arts Center, and Johnson again plays Santa Claus, which is pretty easy for the actor. He typically spends the entire month of December appearing as the jolly old elf.

However, this performance isn't Johnson's usual turn as the man in red. Johnson, who's a professional Santa and a veritable walking encyclopedia of all things Claus, usually plays a more traditional version.

"It's a completely fantasy take on Santa," Johnson said of the production. "It's based on the book by L. Frank Baum, who wrote 'The Wizard of Oz.' This is his perspective of where Santa Claus came from."

And Baum's perspective is fantastical with elves, fairies and magic. It's not really that different from his "Oz" stories and, in fact, Johnson said "The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" wasn't the only time Baum wrote about Santa.

He put in an appearance in "The Road to Oz," along with Dorothy, Toto, the Cowardly Lion and many of the characters Baum introduced in the 14 canonical books about Oz.

"So Santa has been to the land of Oz," Johnson said, pleased.

Johnson is always pleased to play Santa, but he's not the only Santa who'll be on the Alban's stage.

"The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" tells the magical secret origin of Santa, his reindeer and the special powers that allow him to do his job. It follows him through his childhood, where he's played by Asa Lyvers and Kyle Casto.

 As Santa grows up, the role is taken over by Asa's older brother, Ethan Lyvers, who plays Santa Claus as a young man.

"I'm on stage a lot," the 18-year-old senior at Teays Valley Christian School said. "Really, I'm on for the bulk of the show."

Lyvers said taking on a role like Santa Claus is a challenge, but he feels fortunate to have Johnson around.

"Any question I have about the character, I can take it to the director and then take it to John," he said. "John has been like a mentor."

Johnson said Lyvers has done a good job in rehearsals and has really taken to the different tips Johnson has picked up about playing Santa.

"He can do the Santa stance," Johnson said. "We've talked about everything from the ho-ho-ho to the way Santas are supposed to tuck their pants into their boots. Ethan has been great at it. He'd make a great understudy for me. I'd love to try to get him into the chair."

That's the chair where Santa sits to receive the Christmas wishes of hopeful children.

Lyvers said he's a fan of Santa and of Christmas.

"It's my favorite holiday," he said. "My family really celebrates it. We attend services on Christmas Eve, share gifts and do the whole nativity thing.

"I like Santa because I like how the character focuses on the aspect of Christian service. He's just a very honest, honorable and generous man."

Lyvers said he can do whatever it takes to be Santa, except two things -- he can't gain weight, and he can't grow a beard.

He groaned, "I'm incapable of doing either."

Makeup and costuming can do wonders, however.

Lyvers covers the bulk of Santa's life, but Johnson takes over as Santa grows older.

"I'm the Santa everyone knows," Johnson said and laughed. "I've got the white beard, the big belly. I'm the one who gets to become immortal. So, I have that going for me." Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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