A message from the writers: Dennis and Nan Allen.
There’s nothing more fun to write than a musical for children. Even though it’s been 20 years since we wrote and recorded It All Happened in the Country, we still smile (and sometimes laugh out loud) when we listen to it again. Writing a project like this, that is almost exclusively country-style, was a little risky, we thought. We remember asking a friend from California what he thought about a “hillbilly” musical. He laughed and said, “I can’t speak for everybody from California, but I’d love it myself.” So, we set to work on developing the storyline. We drew from some classic TV shows we grew up on like The Beverly Hillbillies and The Andy Griffith Show. We didn’t want to make it too corny or too Southern that it wouldn’t make sense to the urbanites, especially if it stereotyped a certain group of beloved people. We created Uncle Yuletide as the voice of reason, Granny as comic relief, Daniel and Chelsea as the skeptics, and Cora May and Luther as, well…just plain cute! The result, we think, is plenty of rich dialogue and evolving characters.
Although it was a blast writing the script and songs, an even greater experience was going into the studio to record it. Only in Nashville could the best country musicians be found. Banjo players, guitar pickers, harmonica artists, and the rest made the recording so authentic. We remember watching some of the players “doing their thing” in front of a microphone and all we needed to do was stand back and watch them ply their crafts. It was the most fun we’ve ever had in the studio!
After the tracks were done, we brought in singers and actors to finish out the project. Casting the musical was a great experience. First, we got our son, Mark, who at that time was a teenager but a seasoned singer and actor to be Uncle Yuletide. The rest of the actors blew us away in their abilities to “get into character.” How many times did we start laughing and have to retake some of the lines? One line, in particular, that was inspired by an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, Uncle Yuletide says that “Granny’s cornbread really twangs my buds.” That is, taste buds, you see. We got through Uncle Yuletide’s line all right, but when Daniel says, “I don’t need my buds twanged, thank you” the boy actor, the rest of the cast, and those of us in the production booth started laughing. We couldn’t stop. Every time he said “buds twanged” we’d fall apart. Finally, we took a break, got it all out of systems (we thought) and tried the scene again. Of course, the giggles started again. It may have taken an hour to get that one scene on tape. And when Daniel mocks Uncle Yuletide with “just waitin’ to twang your buds,” we had another laughing fit.
No matter what we write, especially if it’s a children’s Christmas musical, we feel compelled to keep telling the biblical story. We know that everybody knows the nativity story, right? Not necessarily and even those of us who do know and love the story of Bethlehem, need to hear it and hide it in our hearts every year. We included the nativity narrative straight from scripture because we believe that the scripture has great power, especially when it’s read or recited out loud.
After It All Happened in the Country came out, it was clear that it was going to be popular. We’ve been in the audience and backstage during many performances, and the most enduring part of those experiences was seeing how much fun the kids had with the production. We have gotten emails from adults recently who were in a performance of this musical and can still remember the lyrics to the songs. And that’s why we love to write children’s musicals. Kids memorize the truth of God’s Word and retain it for the rest of their lives.
We took a cue from the show Hee Haw when we wrote “What’s a Savior Like You Doing in a Place Like This?” to emphasize how the hand of God put His Son in such an unlikely, lowly place. To keep the musical from being overloaded with Twang Town tunes, we added “Christmas In the City” and “Jingle Rap.” This also gave Chelsea and Daniel a chance to tell their story.
Several years after the musical came out, Brentwood Benson asked us to write a sequel to this musical, so we did. It’s called It All Happened in the City. The country cousins go to the city at Easter time and we get to tell “the rest of the Gospel story” using these same characters. It was fun, too. Granny’s first experience with eating sushi brought her to the conclusion that it was “a might uncooked.”
We are honored that Brentwood Benson wants to celebrate this musical’s 20th anniversary! We’ve been so blessed to have worked writing music for all age groups for over 30 years. We never get tired of trying to find fresh new ways to tell the old, old story.
So…order up some corn pone, hog jowls, and collard greens and give this “new” musical a listen. We think it’ll twang your buds!
Dennis and Nan Allen