Musical theater composer Jerry Herman did not mount another Broadway musical after his 1983 hit La Cage aux Folles. But in the 1990s he accepted an offer from the Hallmark Entertainment Channel to write songs for a television movie musical for the holiday season. The result was Mrs. Santa Claus. Herman, the motivating force in the project (with a script by Mark Saltzman and directed by Terry Hughes), saw to it that the work was well within his comfort zone. He always had an affinity for the pop music of the Gilded Age and the early 20th century, with shows such as Hello, Dolly! set in the 1880s and Mack & Mabel in the 1910s, so he was able to make use of Sousa-like marches, ragtime, and Tin Pan Alley-style music for Mrs. Santa Claus. The show is set in 1910 and recounts the title character's visit to the Lower East Side of New York. Herman was also known for his ability to write for middle-aged female characters, as he did effectively in Milk and Honey, Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and Dear World. Two of those shows starred Angela Lansbury, and Lansbury was back as the middle-aged Mrs. Santa Claus. Not surprisingly, then, the score had a very familiar sound to Herman's fans. "Avenue A," for one song, could have come right out of Hello, Dolly!, and other songs were not so much in the Christmas spirit, as in the Herman spirit. In fact, there wasn't a lot of Christmas in the piece. According to the plot, a neglected Mrs. Claus takes off with the reindeer and sleigh prior to Christmas and finds herself temporarily stranded in New York, where she encounters issues of multiculturalism, women's rights, and union organizing that seem more redolent of the 1990s than the 1910s. There is also, of course, a romantic subplot. Lansbury has plenty of songs well-suited to her voice. And all turns out well in the end. The score is minor Herman, but suggested that he retained his talent for pleasant, melodic show tunes.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann