La production originale débute au Grand Opera de Chicago en juin 1903, produite par Hamlin et mise en scène par Mitchell, et fait des tournées dans plusieurs villes de la côte Est avant d’ouvrir ses portes à New York en octobre 1903. Cette création a été suivie par une belle tournée et de revivals. La pièce était si populaire qu’elle a suscité la création d'autres "contes de fées" dans la décennie qui a suivi.
Orphans Alan and Jane are the wards of their wicked Uncle Barnaby, who wants to steal their inheritance. He arranges with two sailors, Gonzorgo and Roderigo, for them to be ship-wrecked and lost at sea, but they are rescued by gypsies and returned to Contrary Mary's garden. Contrary Mary, the eldest daughter of the Widow Piper, believing her beloved Alan is dead, has run away with her brother, Tom-Tom, rather than agree to marry Barnaby. After a second attempt on their lives, Alan and Jane are abandoned in the Forest of No Return. In the Spider's Den, they are protected by the Moth Queen. Old Mother Hubbard's shoe is threatened with foreclosure by Barnaby.
Alan and Jane arrive in Toyland, where they find Contrary Mary and Tom-Tom and seek protection from the Master Toymaker, an evil genius who plots with Barnaby to create toys that kill and maim. The demonically possessed dolls turn on the Toymaker, killing him, and Barn-aby uses the information to have Alan sentenced to death. Contrary Mary agrees to marry Barnaby in exchange for Alan's pardon, but after he marries her, Barnaby denounces Alan again. Barnaby dies after drinking a wine glass filled with poison meant for Alan. Tom-Tom reveals that an old law of Toyland permitting marriage between a widow and a condemned man on condition that he supports her may save Alan from the gallows. Alan is now free to marry Contrary Mary.
A new version, first produced in 1975 by the Light Opera of Manhattan with the support of the Victor Herbert Foundation, is more sentimental than the original. Two unhappy children, Jane and Alan, run away from home. Their parents, who are always putting work and discipline be-fore fun, are too busy for them, so the young siblings set out for a place where they will be understood. The children believe that Toyland, a magical land of spirited toys, will deliver them from their hardships. When they arrive, the kindly Toymaker welcomes them with open arms. He warns them not to become too caught up in the fantasy, but soon the toys of Toyland draw them in with their singing and dancing.
The busy parents must find a way to bring the young runaways back home. They send a private eye to search for their children, but this detective sees an opportunity for personal gain in his trip to Toyland; he forces Jane and Alan to help him steal the Toymaker's plans for a new marching toy soldier. When the parents arrive in Toyland via hot air balloon, they too fall under the spell of the mystical land. Arguments break out, toys are wounded, and Jane and Alan get lost and frightened in the dark woods outside of Toyland. As the parents and toys search for the children, the characters and audience alike discover the true meaning of Christmas.