The ever dependable Adventure Theatre MTC has unveiled its Christmas show for this year, Fancy Nancy’s Splendiferous Christmas. Based on a book (part of a series) by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser, the play focuses on the precocious girl of the title and her family as they ready for every (or almost every) kid’s favorite holiday.
One of the things I most admire about the work at Adventure is that they are not afraid to play in a minor key. The result is a performance that will be satisfying to those who are allergic to the more pushed, frenetic, over-broad style that some associate with theatre for young audiences, and will also be satisfying to children whose cultural palette is a bit more sophisticated than the “louder, faster, funnier” wares routinely shopped to kids.
Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas is a case in point. The hour-long show seems to fly by, but not at a galloping pace that sacrifices detail and nuance. Sure, the piece won’t find a place among anyone’s top ten list of deathless, timeless holiday classics. Granted, the score, while pleasant enough, feels a bit derivative. (The music is by Randy Klein, the lyrics by Matthew Hardy, the book of the musical by Cara Lustik and Hardy.)
But Stevie Zimmerman (Director) and Ilona Kessell (Choreographer) lead a charming cast through the quaintly low-key proceedings, imbuing the piece with thoughtful detail. A quite full house on the day after Thanksgiving was attentive and appreciative.
The conflicts that the characters face are of an every-day sort, but all the better to make them relatable to the target audience. Many a kid watching may have, like the characters, felt unfairly banished to a time-out, or may have felt immense shame to have broken something delicate and prized, or may have faced the dilemma of whether to satisfy one’s own desires at the expense of the desires of a loved one.
Spoiler alert: it all works out pretty well for Nancy and her family: lessons learned; hearts warmed; and, as the finale number brings us home, throat lumped.
The cast voices are terrific, the lyrics always clearly delivered. Adventure is a tiny space that presents staging challenges, but you wouldn’t know it from how deftly Scenic Designer Klyph Stanford creates the various locations. (Stanford and Zimmerman come up with a particularly clever and efficient solution to the problem of how to topple a tall Christmas tree, breaking the afore-mentioned treasured ornament.)
If there’s one aspect that resists the book-to-stage transfer, it’s the portrayal of the title character. The adapters and/or the production have not found a way to have an adult actor play Nancy in a manner that achieves the precociousness at the same time as it keeps her in the world of (as Nancy is described in the Wikipedia entry) a young girl.
Fancy Nancy’s Splendiferous Christmas
closes January 6, 2019
Details and tickets
Farrell Parker is otherwise wonderful in the role: possessed of a really gorgeous voice, and obviously a smart and capable actor. It’s just never really clear how old she is supposed to be and, particularly in contrast to her obviously younger sister, she reads as mature, in age as well as in attitude.
I think the balance is probably much easier to accomplish with a drawn character than with a performed character. Performed, it’s hard for the precociousness not to read as knowing and dry beyond Nancy’s biological years. (Though, on the other hand, the choice does fit into recently reported trends as regards casting older actors as children)
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The younger sister is played by Alex De Bard. She gets a delightful turn in the spotlight during the number in which she sings the blues about the frequency of “time-outs” in her life. As the father of six year-old twins, I know how deeply kids that age feel about fairness, particularly when it comes to any perceived differential in the application of punishments.
The (extremely tolerant and supportive) parents are played by Megan Adrielle and Christopher Michael Richardson, and both add to the fun and the music-making. A late scene during which the whole family mime playing instruments was, I thought, particularly charming. I found my eye drawn occasionally to Adrielle at moments when she was not at the center of the action, and I was always touched by her gaze of maternal affection.
Scott Abernethy is wonderful as he does double duty playing the family’s Grandfather and also (in Python-esque drag) a friendly neighbor. He brings a terrific song-and-dance-man flair to the former role, and an understated tenderness to the latter.
(Here’s an item that is perhaps more suited to the society pages: You never know who you are going to run into in Washington, DC. It was an added delight for me to be able to introduce my children to and visit with one of the most prominent names in DC theatre, who was there with grandchildren in tow.)
I brought not only my own children to the show, but also their cousins (seven year-old twins). After the show, my brother noted his surprise that his son (who is more sensitive to gender expectations than is my son) had stayed so engaged in a piece that he might have felt would be of primary interest to girls.
But that’s one of the wonderful things about exposing children to the lively arts at an early age: expectations can be challenged, and a play like Fancy Nancy’s Splendiferous Christmas might surprise you — as well as the children in your life.
Fancy Nancy’s Splendiferous Christmas. Book by Cara Lustik and Matthew Hardy. Music by Randy Klein. Lyrics by Matthew Hardy. Based on the book by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser. Directed by Stevie Zimmerman. Featuring Scott Abernethy, Megan Adrielle, Alex De Bard, Farrell Parker, Christopher Michael Richardson. Choreographer: Ilona Kessell. Music Director: Joshua Sommerville. Orchestrator: Wayne Chadwick. Assistant Director: Carlos Castillo. Scenic Designer: Klyph Stanford. Costume Designer: Katie Touart. Lighting Designer: Jason Arnold. Sound Designer: Kevin Alexander. Properties Designer: Alicia Tessari. Stage Manager: Andrew Wilkinson. Assistant Stage Manager: Olivia Viola. Scenic Charge: Amy Kellett. Produced by Adventure Theatre & ATMTC Academy. Reviewed by Christopher Henley.