Madeline—the iconic character from a series of children’s book written in the 1950s and 1960s—takes center stage at Creative Cauldron and rings in the holidays with magic and charm in Madeline’s Christmas.
Set in Paris at a Catholic school, the whimsical story tells how “twelve little girls in two straight lines” make it home just in time to spend the best day of the year with their families, thanks to the titular character’s resilience in the face of the flu. Madeline (Abigail Boatwright), the only one in the house not sneezing and wheezing, is nursing her classmates and teacher, Ms. Clavel (Shaina Virginia Kuhn) on Christmas Eve when a mysterious knock at the door brings Harsha (Ryan Sellers), a rug merchant with mystic powers, into their lives.
Harsha knows a trick or two about making the unwell healthy and carpets fly. He also makes a mouse talk, ice cream appear, and hiccups vanish.
A show for kids with kids in the cast often comes with a delightfullness that eclipses any lack in precision. As the twelve little girls gawk at zoo animals, traipse through their house, learn the Eiffel Tower’s history, pillow fight, and scare at the sight of a rodent, whatever stumbles they take in reciting lines are made up for being completely believable as a gaggle of girls. Because a gaggle of girls is exactly what they are—with all the wonder and enthusiasm you’d expect.
The girls are lucky to have Kuhn, Sellers, and Laura Connors Hull—who plays the house caretaker, Mrs. Murphy, with a thick Irish accent and constant state of bewilderment—by their side, shouldering the unexpected with aplomb and keeping the stage from becoming chaos (which is easy to do with all those feet and not much space).
Closes December 28, 2014
ArtSpace Falls Church
410 South Maple Avenue
Falls Church, VA
1 hour, 20 minutes
Fridays thru Sundays
Moments in the show tickle adults and kids alike: a song about the flu peppered with a bunch of big sneezes; Harsha’s deadpan “I read” response to Madeline’s query of how he knows so much about her burst appendix, tumble into River Seine, and fearlessness around animals.
And, just as fun as watching kids play pretend, is sitting with kids learning to suspend disbelief, especially when they shout “That’s a puppet!” at the sight of Martin the mouse, who becomes the house pet by show end.
The songs are peppy with sweet melodies, but it’s Creative Cauldron’s set designs that solidify the mood.
Sometimes, the simplest staging makes the best show, challenging us to use our imaginations in unexpected ways: an array of Christmas lights timed to twinkle at perfect moments and long sticks topped with dolls on mini carpets used to circle the tip of a Eiffel Tower and illustrate flight. Here, the book—with its water-color-esque pictures—is brought to life with modest props and an unassuming backdrop that looks just like the book: a recognizable blue sky speckled with white smears.
Madeline’s Christmas, with its dash of magic and splash of charm, is a wonderfully warm holiday show.
Madeline’s Christmas . Based on the book by Ludwig Bemelmans; Book and Lyrics by Jennifer Kirkeby; Music by Shirley Mier . Directed by Matt Conner; Choreography by Stephen Gregory Smith; Scenic and Costume Design by Margie Jervis; Lightning Design by John Sami; and Scenic Design Assistance by Bill Abie . Featuring Shaina Virginia Kuhn as Miss Clavel; Laura Connors Hull as Mrs. Murphy; Ryan Sellers as Monsieur Brun/Harsha; Abigail Boatwright as Madeline; Julia Elman as Regine; Lauren Buford as Isabelle; Emma Coleman as Camille; Avery Hagan as Juliette; Olivia Laurine as Anne; Emily Martin as Daphne; Constance Meade as Amy; Nora Rice as Kate; Rowan Smith as Mary; Grace Taarpgard as Dominique; and Elizabeth Vichness. Mouse and Understudies: Libby Brooke, Mikayla Edmunds, and Ave Feldstein. Produced by Creative Cauldron . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.
Closes Dec 28