I once made the mistake of taking two young children to a Christmas play where all they enjoyed was an expensive nap. What a shame that the charming new Teddy Roosevelt and the Ghostly Mistletoe now playing at the Kennedy Center was not an available alternative. The same creative team behind the 2006 success, Teddy Roosevelt and the Treasure of Ursa Major, has produced another funny adventure featuring our 26th President and his vivacious family.
The story focuses on three of the children, bold Kermit (Alexander Strain), sensible Ethel (Jenna Sokolowski), and comic Archie (Matthew McGloin), all of whom reprise their roles from the earlier play. Their conservationist father is reluctant to have a White House Christmas tree, fearing that if the entire nation followed the trend, it would harm our nation’s forests. In song President Teddy Roosevelt (Michael Glenn) stresses the importance of “Responsibility” over personal pleasure, leading the children in a spirited march.
The children conspire to borrow the plot from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to convince their father of how badly their children need a Christmas tree. They enlist the assistance of the President’s faithful aide James (James J. Johnson) with the promise of better behavior around the White House and the excitement of playing the Ghost.
Complicating matters are the presence of older sister Alice Roosevelt (Susan Lynskey) and Secretary of War William Howard Taft (Michael Russotto). Alice is the original bridezilla whose determination to have her way and whose caustic wit can intimidate all, but whose participation would help the plan. Taft is a genial rotund figure who President Roosevelt wants as his successor, but whose nerves may not be up for the job if he finds that the White House is haunted.
Playwright Tom Isbell has created a fun story with an array of humor suited for audiences of all ages. The humor accelerates as the children’s scheme is implemented with a series of chases and slamming doors in the White House’s Blue Room, punctuated by ghostly visitations and supernatural scenes. Parents will especially enjoy the sly parody of A Christmas Carol as President Roosevelt is made to witness how the lack of a Christmas tree might emotionally scar his children for life.
Among the many assets of Teddy Roosevelt and the Ghostly Mistletoe are the songs written by the marvelous Mark Russell. Fans of Russell’s live performances and PBS specials will especially enjoy the way his songs move the story along with economy and wit. A notable comedic musical highlight is the “Alice Tango.” Short excerpts from a few classic hymns also help build the holiday mood.
Director Gregg Henry keeps the spirit light and the action moving in this delightful holiday production. While all seven members of the cast have fun with their respective roles, Matthew McGloin proves an especially inspired clown who wins a multitude of laughs.
Recent cookbooks have advocated the value of hiding vegetables in children’s dishes not known for nutritious content. Parents can be assured that children seven and up will eagerly consume Teddy Roosevelt and the Ghostly Mistletoe while ingesting a little history as an added bonus.
Teddy Roosevelt and the Ghostly Mistletoe runs thru Dec 30 at the Kennedy Center.
Celia Wren . The Post