The Hippo


May 29, 2020








See The Night of Las Posadas

Woodcrest Seniors’ Center (356 Main St., New London): Tuesday, Dec. 2, at 3 p.m.
Pleasant View (227 Pleasant St., Concord): Friday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 6, at 3 and 7 p.m.
Congregational Church of Henniker (43 Maple St., Henniker): Wednesday, Dec. 17, at 7 p.m.
Milly’s Tavern (500 N. Commercial St., Manchester): Sunday, Dec. 21, at 2:30 and 4  p.m.
Contact:,, 568-5102
Admission: By donation

Long journey to The Night of Las Posadas
The making of Tomie dePaola’s book-turned-play

By Kelly Sennott

When he requested the rights to produce a stage version of Tomie dePaola’s The Night of Las Posadas 20 years ago, playwright Tom Dunn didn’t live in New Hampshire. He was running a theater in Minnesota that translated children’s stories onstage. His only connection to the Granite State? His wife, who was born and raised here.

Dunn and his wife loved reading Las Posadas to their then-young children, so he was pleased when dePaola, who lives in New London, wrote a “lovely letter” back granting permission.
While in Minnesota, however, that’s as far as it got. His company ended up performing a big production of A Christmas Carol instead. His family moved to New Hampshire about five years later, in 1999.
“One of the first things we did was go to a New Hampshire Writers’ Project awards event,” Dunn said in a phone interview. “I figured it was a great way for me to go and meet local writers. I had been in New Hampshire two weeks at that point. My wife wanted to raise our four children here.”
Coincidentally, dePaola was at that event, receiving an award, and he remembered Dunn.
“The first thing he said to me was, ‘Tom Dunn, are you related to that guy out in Minnesota?’”
Still, Dunn didn’t take on Las Posadas until 2012. At that point, he’d met musician and composer Will Ogmundson, and together, they’d established Alchemists’ Workshop, a nonprofit theater company headquartered in Henniker that celebrates its 15th year this season. The pair have collaborated in writing and producing many projects — always originals — and it happened that Ogmundson was very interested in taking Las Posadas to the stage. In fact, he’d grown up five miles from where dePaola currently lives.
So, they sat down and wrote this 50-minute operetta. According to Ogmundson, it was something that came together naturally; Dunn wrote the outline of the show, pinpointing places for music, and Ogmundson composed.
The book tells of the Las Posadas tradition, a Spanish festival with Christian roots — it occurs over a nine-day period, representative of the nine months Mary carried Jesus — and is a re-enactment of the plight Mary and Joseph took as they searched for lodgings in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. There’s a procession, heckling and door-slamming by the “devil” (or devils), until finally, Mary and Joseph are invited into a church or community center to sing Christmas carols and share a meal.
The transfer from book to stage required some elaboration.
“We were expanding it into almost an hour-long show. This children’s book takes about five minutes to read, and so we were adding things that weren’t in the book,” Ogmundson said.
Dunn thinks Ogmundson wrote “absolutely gorgeous” music for their version of The Night of Las Posadas, but they knew it meant nothing if dePaola didn’t care for it. So, when the writer invited the pair to his New London home before the play’s October 2012 premiere, they nervously accepted. 
“He invited us very nicely, but we both realized that if he hated it, that would be the end of it,” Dunn said.
Dunn read the speaking parts, Ogmundson the singing parts, and dePaola watched and listened closely. 
“Tomie sat with his manager looking very stern at first. It was the most nervous tryout I ever had in my life, particularly since at this point, we had invested a lot of time into it,” Dunn said. 
DePaola took notes and showed no reaction to the play’s start. When they arrived at the point where Dunn and Ogmundson took creative liberties — instead of just one devil, there were many, and they took on Elvis, redneck, Phantom of the Opera, political and pop culture personalities — they received his endorsement.
“He started laughing for the first time,” Dunn said. “He was on the floor cracking up.”
Dunn said the small, five-person operetta with minimal costume changes and sets (accompanied only by projected illustrations from dePaola’s book) has been performed in 22 different venues these past two years. 
Initially, the company’s renewed permission to perform the play was only in New Hampshire, but an increase in Las Posadas book sales has enabled the Alchemists’ Workshop to expand outward. Ogmundson, Dunn and four other actors (Mary Armstrong, Michael Stailey, Emily Friedrich and Joseph Dalfonso) will make the rounds this November and December in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont.  
As seen in the November 27, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

®2020 Hippo Press. site by wedu