What better way to usher in the magic of the season than with a big, brilliant display of Christmas cheer, high-kicking its way across the stage and into your heart? Christmas Wonderland is a holiday spectacular featuring all the trimmings of a Broadway production choreographed to a sentimental score of Christmas classics.

The show is presented by the FSCJ Art Series for one night only, Dec. 19, at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts (www.artistseriesjax.com).

Under the direction of David King, the critically acclaimed producer of the international hit show Spirit of the Dance, Christmas Wonderland features the same stellar choreography, dazzling costumes, and enough holiday cheer to set Santa’s sleigh aloft.

EU Jacksonville caught up with King, calling on a cold London afternoon. The sun shone warm and bright in Jacksonville, prompting King to suggest with a degree of mock seriousness that we table the interview and reconvene with our toes in the sand. But, for purposes of logistics and a looming deadline, he begrudgingly agreed to move forward with the call.

King is a cheerful bloke with a kind and gentle demeanor, much like Santa Claus himself, but without the beard and the bowl-full-of-jelly belly. The stage is his workshop, and he tinkers away, adding touches of whimsical wonder to every element in the show. Rather than elves, the world-renowned theatre producer employs a team of the best dancers, choreographers, set and costume designers, musicians, lighting experts and sound engineers to infuse Christmas Wonderland with just the right amount of holiday magic.

“Our goal was to make the most Christmasy, magical, family-oriented show that everyone from little children to grandparents will enjoy. We’re bringing in the holidays with a happy, festive show,” says King. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity to make a happy, gorgeous show with songs that people know and can sing along with. We bring humor into it when we can, but it’s the music that makes the show.”

And while Santa knows if you’ve been naughty or nice, King quietly keeps a watchful on his productions, often popping in on a show during his extensive travels. “I stand back by the sound board at the back of the theater,” he says. “When the audience is excited, it just lifts the room, and it makes my job worthwhile.”

Growing up, King was a classical pianist, but he left it because he felt it singled him out from his peers. “I was a bit of a musical prodigy, but it was hard being a young boy who liked music,” he says. “I wanted to play football like the other boys my age, but the music was always inside of me.”

After years of trying to break into musical theatre, King became an overnight sensation in 1996 when he wrote and created his first hit musical Spirit of the Dance. The Irish dance spectacular went on to become one of the biggest dance shows in the world, with 14 troupes performing the show in 14 different countries on the same night, playing to over 30 million people worldwide. Spirit of the Dance was inspired by Riverdance and included all forms of international dance from salsa, flamenco, ballet, ballroom, tap, and street dance.

“I wrote all the music and arranged all of the orchestrations for Spirit of the Dance. The show took Irish dance and gave it its own identity,” he says.

For over 20 years, King has worked with some of the biggest names in entertainment including Sir Elton John, Rod Stewart, Andre Bocelli, Liza Minnelli and Lionel Ritchie, but he remains a hands-on executive producer and still creates and produces all the 25 shows in his portfolio.

His shows regularly appear in more than 20 countries including sold out productions in Australia at the Sydney Opera House. He is also the first Westerner to have three consecutive tours in China, playing to over a million people.  

He owns three major theatres in America: The Palace Theatre in Myrtle Beach, with 3,000 seats is the largest theatre on the East Coast; The King’s Castle Theatre in Branson, MS, where his shows plays year round, and The Broadway Theatre, located in MGM’s New York – New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

The original Christmas Wonderland show was developed in England and enjoyed its inaugural run in the states last year. King feels the same sense of wonder for his holiday spectacular that he experienced the first time he witnesses an entire crowd rise to its feet in appreciation for the Spirit of the Dance. It’s that feeling of bringing joy to families across the world that keeps him coming back. Just like Santa.


About Liza Mitchell