Go Do This: Drifty and the Chocolate Factory

A cowboy and an elf find out who can make the best mug of hot chocolate in the North Pole. So much drama. So much excitement. So much fine holiday fun.

A little bit country and whole lot North Pole, Swift Creek Mill Theatre’s Drifty and the Chocolate Factory offers a kooky alternative to your traditional family holiday entertainment.

What it is

Swift Creek Mill Theatre’s original character Drifty the Snowman (Joy Williams) is back–with the whole North Pole gang–to teach young audiences about what it means to be a good sport.

Cowboy Jim (Tom Width) and Pepita the Elf1 (Georgia Rogers Farmer) can’t stop competing over…everything. Mrs. Claus (Lisa Kotula) jumps at the chance to teach Jim and Pepita about friendly competition when local candy maker Willie Whoops2 (Ian Page) issues a challenge: who can make the best mug of hot chocolate?

Put simply, this is children’s theater through-and-through: peppy (and sometimes silly) music, bright costumes, and an easy-to-grasp lesson. Williams, Width, and Farmer maintain fantastically high comic energy for the play’s entire 45-minute run, while Kotlua’s motherish Mrs. Claus and Page’s sing-song turn as Willie Whoops add a dose of calm–fittingly since their characters offer up the majority of the “here’s the important lesson” moments throughout the play.

Where it is


Drifty and the Chocolate Factory is playing at [Swift Creek Mill Theatre][smc], waaaaaaay out in South Chesterfield. Sure, it’s a trek for us city-dwellers, but the history behind the venue makes it a must-see for anyone who lives in the Greater Richmond area. Sitting right on Swift Creek, the one-time watermill has been around since at least 1663–less than 60 years after Jamestown was settled.

Come for the show, stay for the history, is what I’m saying.

Who’s behind it

Intended for pre-kindergarten through third grade audiences, Drifty and the Chocolate Factory is the latest installment in the Mill’s almost 30-year commitment to providing cultural-slash-educational programming for children and youth. Original productions (this one included) are written by staff with the help of classroom educators and each incorporates age-appropriate Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL). Bringing those SOLs into the story can feel a little clunky at times during Drifty the Chocolate Factory–for example, at one point Willie Whoops decides somewhat out of the blue to teach Drifty about primary and secondary colors–but it’s forgivable because the kids are having so much fun. Don’t think about it too hard; appreciate the Mill’s effort to reinforce what your kids are learning in school and just go with it.

Paul Deiss wrote the book, music, and lyrics for Drifty and the Chocolate Factory. He also serves as musical director.

Tom Width (the same guy who plays Cowboy Jim) directs the production, and is also responsible for the cozy-yet-rustic scenic design. Maura Lynch Cravey designed the costumes–be sure to pay particular attention to the details on Willie Whoops’s getup. Peppermint buttons!


When it is

Drifty and the Chocolate Factory runs through Tuesday, December 22nd with weekday performances at 10:15 AM and 12:00 PM and Saturday performances at 10:15 AM and 1:00 PM.

How much it costs

Tickets are $8.75 a piece. Tack on an extra $2 per person and you can enjoy the Mill’s buffet of southern favorites before or after the show.

Other things to note

Parking can fill up pretty quickly, so try to get there a little early. You and the little ones can kill time outside by Instagramming the heck out of the creek–or head inside, find your seats, and enjoy some Christmas favorites, courtesy of the on-set player piano.

If you don’t go do this, you will…

Miss out on the chance to witness children–your own and others’–lose their damn minds when Santa finally shows up. Also: tiny children in tiny holiday sweaters.

  1. Who is from Ecuador, apparently? To those of you who have seen other Drifty productions: have they ever addressed Pepita’s origin story? I’m fascinated. 
  2. A character very-much-inspired by Willy Wonka. 
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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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