It’s hard not to think of freshly baked biscochitos and the warm light of farolitos when Christmastime rolls around in Northern New Mexico. In recent years, though, a new winter tradition has emerged.
A Musical Piñata for Christmas, now in its seventh year, is a bilingual, pointedly heartwarming theatrical event that’s both a celebration and a reflection of life in the City of Holy Faith. This year’s installment opens on Friday, Dec. 6, at Teatro Paraguas.
Musical Piñata features a cast of 30, with live music, singing, and dancing. The show is directed by the president of Teatro Paraguas’ board, JoJo Sena de Tarnoff, and is anchored by a short play, Regalito, written by Alix Hudson, the board secretary. Both women also perform in the 12-member Teatro Paraguas Orchestra. Sena de Tarnoff plays flute and guitar; Hudson plays French horn and ukulele.
It’s Hudson’s fifth year penning the short play featured in Musical Piñata. It’s a dramatic challenge to devise the plots and characters who are going to be in the show, as well as what the theater might have on hand to use as props. For Regalito, which she co-wrote with Paola Vengoechea-Martini, Hudson concentrated on naturalistic dialogue, opportunities for local references, and some laugh-out-loud physical comedy.
“Teatro Paraguas just celebrated our quinceañera, so we had a lot of wrapped boxes around to use as gifts, and we thought it would be fun to have a character have her quinceañera in the play,” she says. “One of the actresses had broken her foot, so we wrote that in, too. In the Christmas show, we usually show stories of being grateful for what you have, of coming together, and of welcoming people who are different from us.”
Sena de Tarnoff and Hudson describe Musical Piñata as a giant, festive, sometimes chaotic affair that provides lots of fun roles for young actors, this year from 4 years old to well into high school. Regalito (Spanish for “little present”) starts the show and runs about 40 minutes. Most of the children involved this year have acted in previous Christmas Piñata productions.
Jesusita (Shaunti Sitonik) is celebrating her 15th birthday — her quinceañera — on Christmas, and her friend Macy (Amaya Smith) has come from Orlando, Florida, to join the party, which includes a plethora of siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles. The girls know each other through Instagram and have never met in real life before. The scenario provides ample opportunities to introduce an outsider to New Mexican culture. Macy is an only child from a small family. She is overwhelmed by the size of Jesusita’s family, as well as by how much Spanish everyone speaks.
“Why did you tell me you don’t speak Spanish?” Macy asks her host.
“I don’t,” Jesusita insists.
Macy protests that everyone in the house is, in fact, speaking Spanish. “Claro que no!” (“Of course not!”) protest all the children.
“Alix writes these beautiful plays with a magical lesson to learn, and the play ends with going to Mass and singing ‘Vamos Todos a Belen,’ ” Sena de Tarnoff says. “I’ve been doing children’s theater for 30 years, and you never know what the kids are going to do. That’s what makes the show so wonderful.”
Hot cocoa and biscochitos are served during intermission, and then the second half of Musical Piñata commences with Christmas songs played by the orchestra — including a choreographed children’s performance of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Jules Rubin and Armando Hernandez perform comedy skits, and Argos McCallum and Dan Bohorst read poetry. Santa Claus pops in for a visit and all of the children in the audience are invited to participate in the finale: breaking the piñata and gathering Christmas goodies and treats. ◀
▼ A Musical Piñata for Christmas VII
▼ Opens 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6; continues 7 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. Saturdays & Sundays, through Dec. 15
▼ Teatro Paraguas, 3205 Calle Marie
▼ Tickets are $10, $5 under 17; 505-424-1601, brownpapertickets.com