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Christmas comes early for three charities

Christmas will come early for three Bermuda charities this year — despite the fact a major Yuletide production intended to raise funds for them has been suspended.

Arthur Rankin Jr., the Bermudian producer of such seasonal television perennials as Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty The Snowman and The Little Drummer Boy, had intended to mount a stage production of the last animated special he made with American partner Jules Bass — 2001's Santa Baby — at City Hall over the Christmas season.

Proceeds from the show had been earmarked to go to the Bermuda National Gallery, Crime Stoppers of Bermuda and the Bermuda Diabetes Association.

“But there were just too many technical and production challenges and difficulties — one after another — which we cannot see being able to overcome in time to present the quality production that Bermuda audiences have come to expect and deserve,” said Mr. Rankin, whose Rankin-Bass productions have entertained generations of children the world over since the early 1960s.

Harrington Sound resident Mr. Rankin said the three charities earmarked to receive contributions from Santa Baby's box office receipts would instead be receiving “significant” donations from himself and producing partner Gary Phillips.

Inspired by Eartha Kitt's classic 1954 version of the title song, Santa Baby tells the story of a little girl who is granted a wish by a Christmas partridge. She uses it to help her musician father over his songwriting slump and then goes on to give Santa Claus a helping hand during the festive season. The show's score also features R&B-flavoured versions of such Christmas songs as Jingle Bells, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, Deck The Halls and Silent Night, among others.

“When the idea came to me to adapt my animated film Santa Baby as a stage production I fully realised it was an ambitious project and would take some doing,” said Mr. Rankin. “The television special, which featured the vocal talents of the legendary Eartha Kitt alongside Patti Labelle, Gregory Hinds and Vanessa Williams, was bursting with exotic locations, songs and special effects. And the dazzle of the animation techniques we employed kept a young — and not so young — audiences, well, dazzled.

“After a great deal of thought Gary and I decided to suspend the production of the stage version of Santa Baby until we can find solutions to the problems we encountered.”

Mr. Rankin had nothing but praise for the cast and stage crew he had assembled for the City Hall production.

“With the brilliant collaboration of Alex Winfield — a young Bermudian currently living and working in London — we figured out how to bring the character of the magic partridge to life through puppetry which would have employed the talents of performer Khamla White,” he said. “Other principals in the cast were Che Barker, Nishanti Bailey, Ed Christopher, Phiemma Caisey and Zalika Millett.

“I know our decision will come as a deep disappointment to the actors and crew personnel who all, under the experienced guidance of technical director Rotimi Martins, greatly assisted in the production up until this point.”

Santa Baby, like the rest of the Rankin-Bass library of seasonal animated specials, continues to air on broadcast and cable channels in North America as well as internationally every year.

The Rankin-Bass holiday shows were marked by their distinctive animation techniques, use of popular songs and vocal contributions from such veteran Hollywood stars as Andy Griffith, Burl Ives, Fred Astaire, Red Skelton, Danny Kaye, Boris Karloff, Jimmy Durante, Greer Garson and Vincent Price.

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, the inaugural Rankin-Bass Christmas show which was originally broadcast on the US network NBC in 1964, remains the highest-rated, longest-running special in the history of American television.

Nominated for two prime time Emmy Awards, Mr. Rankin and Mr. Bass received George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in television for their 1977 adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien's book The Hobbit.

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Published September 23, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 22, 2013 at 11:45 pm)

Christmas comes early for three charities

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