This month, The Old Globe premieres Looking for Christmas, a new holiday musical with songs drawn from country singer Clint Black’s 1995 album of the same name. Black is the latest in a growing list of big-ticket names who have brought their musical catalogue and talent to the Globe, including Huey Lewis (The Heart of Rock and Roll, 2018), and Steve Martin and Edie Brickell (Bright Star, 2014).
To bring his songs to life, Black partnered with bookwriter James D. Sasser. The pair met about two years ago after one of Black’s concerts. Sasser, a graduate of NYU’s musical theater writing program, was seeking new projects, and he asked the country star whether he’d ever considered doing a musical. "As I delved deeper into his catalog, I realized what an incredible storyteller he is," Sasser recalls.
When they first sat down together, it was Black who proposed the concept of a Christmas musical. "I had about five ideas, and one of them was good," the singer jokes.
But for Sasser, this was no joke. "I was two tracks into his Christmas album at that point," he says, "and it all just coalesced."
The story follows Staff Sergeant Mike Randolph, a combat medic who returns home from Afghanistan just before Christmas. Before he can really embrace the spirit of the season, Randolph must confront the lingering remnants of war within him. That the plot would have a strong military element resonated with each member of the creative team, which also includes director Kent Nicholson and music supervisor Charles Vincent Burwell. All, with the exception of Black, are sons of veterans.
For further inspiration, Sasser interviewed fellow military families and close friends. He also spent weeks watching what felt like every Christmas movie ever made, searching for common themes and attempting to uncover the magic ingredient that makes holiday films so endearing. The answer? Family, community, and the individual’s role in the community—all of which play a pivotal part in Looking for Christmas.
Of course, one of the biggest influences on the storyline was Black’s album. "From day one, Clint understood that in musicals what drives the story forward is the music," Sasser explains. "I was blown away by Clint’s willingness to reexamine the lyrics and try different things to serve the material." Some of the original songs have been "tweaked and tinkered with," while four others were written just for this production.
"I never felt any of these songs were too precious to mess with," Black adds.
The production will play concurrently with the Globe’s long-running children’s classic, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, but Black and Sasser want to attract a whole new audience with their piece.
As part of the theater’s Holiday Salute to the Military, sponsors like Viasat and the Elaine Lipinsky Family Foundation will provide free tickets, beverage coupons, and a holiday gift to active-duty service members and their families. This comes in addition to the theater’s ongoing military discounts and outreach programs, such as the Globe for All Tour.
The show also coincides with the 30th anniversary of Black’s landmark album Killin’ Time, for which he’s planned celebrations continuing into 2019. Meanwhile, Looking for Christmas is already slated for a multicity tour next year; both Black and Sasser hope it will become a recurring holiday tradition around the country.
"The story we’re telling will be a moving experience that people can watch again and again," Black says. "Like It’s a Wonderful Life, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, it still gets me in the end."
Looking For Christmas
November 11–December 16
The Old Globe, Balboa Park