Oak Harbor’s Ron Wilhelm, who played Santa in the Whidbey Playhouse holiday revue “Christmas at the Playhouse” last month, is missing two strings of bells he donated to the set. Santa would like the bells returned. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Playhouse Santa is looking for his Christmas bells

It would be quite un-Santa like to carry any hard feelings.

Ron Wilhelm doesn’t. All he wants are his Christmas bells back.

No questions asked.

Wilhelm was eager to lend the bells to be used as a prop in last month’s holiday revue, “Christmas at the Playhouse,” at the Whidbey Playhouse.

He’s never quite heard anything like the jingle made by the pair of long leather straps that each carry about a dozen golf-ball-sized, silver-colored bells.

Their proper title is horse sleigh bells. But to Wilhelm’s family, for 30 years they’ve been shaken to create Christmas magic. They’ve always just called them Christmas bells.

“They have a very beautiful sound,” he said. “I think they’re so neat.”

On Dec. 18, the last of 11 performances of “Christmas at the Playhouse,” the bells went silent and haven’t been seen or heard since.

As is playhouse tradition after the final show, the cast and crew stayed to take down the set, clean and put away props and costumes, joined by those involved with the venue’s upcoming production, “Into the Woods.” It is known as strike day.

The bells had been hanging up backstage, but often would be taken by a member of the cast and crew and playfully shaken for fun.

Wilhelm, who played Santa during “Christmas at the Playhouse,” finished his cleanup role of mopping floors around the facility when he returned to the set to retrieve his bells and couldn’t find them anywhere.

“I asked, ‘Anybody seen where the bells went?” he said. “Nobody knew.”

That led to an all-out search by Wilhelm that has come up empty. He and others have looked through boxes taken to an off-site storage warehouse and searched the playhouse itself over and over.

“We’ve looked everywhere and can’t find them and he’s just about heartbroken,” said Janis Powell, the playhouse’s office manager.

Wilhelm knows the slightest movement sets off a noticeable jingle, so he’s puzzled at how they might’ve left the building undetected.

Wearing his Santa hat, Wilhelm thinks the best of those who might’ve found the bells irresistible and taken them as a memento to remind them of the festive show, believing they were insignificant and wouldn’t be missed.

Wilhelm said that happens sometimes after shows. He even remembers receiving a small model of a pirate ship after the “Pirates of Penzance.”

But nobody asked for the Christmas bells, and in Wilhelm’s case, they carry significant sentimental value, if nothing else.

He used to light up his kids’ eyes with them and would drive around his Oak Harbor neighborhood around Christmas and shake them to spread the holiday spirit.

“It’s hard to even carry them without making noise,” Wilhelm said. “Even if you had them in a bag and were walking, they would be making noise. They are very, very noticeable.”

He’s hoping to hear that jingle again. If someone has them, all he cares about is their safe return.

That would put a smile back on Santa’s face.

“No questions asked,” he said. “All they’d have to do is bring them to the theater.”

n The Whidbey Playhouse is located at 730 S.E. Midway Boulevard in Oak Harbor. One may also reach the theater by calling 360-679-2237.

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