By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
Charming is the word I think of when I’m asked to describe the Christmas confection now playing at Creative Cauldron in Falls Church. Totally. This musical adaptation of Ludwig Bemelmans’ classic story about Madeline, that spunky Parisian heroine, will totally capture your heart and won’t let go. Can you spare me a minute to tell you why you should experience this production with your entire family?
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” With that familiar phrase, Ludwig Bemelmans set in motion the adventures of a precocious little girl named Madeline, winning the hearts of generations of readers to come. In this musical adaptation, it’s the night before Christmas and Madeline’s schoolmates, along with their tutor Miss Clavel, are all sick in bed. Brave and resourceful, Madeline comes to the rescue with help from a mysterious rug merchant who takes them all on a magical Christmas journey they will never forget. And neither will YOU!
Madeline is played delightfully by adorable Gabriella Simmons-Robles, who has been in many shows at Creative Cauldron, even playing Madeline in last year’s production. Gabriella sings exceptionally well, as do all the other little girls in this production. Their spirit is infectious! Also, since many of the songs are hummable, you may find yourself singing the “Achoo” and “Abracadabra” songs long after the final bows and applause. Other returning actors in this production are Shaina Kuhn, playing the caring and wise Miss Clavel, Ryan Sellers, in the wonderfully antic roles of Monsieur Brun and Harsha, the rug merchant, and, ta-da, Creative Cauldron’s own Producing Director, Laura Conners Hull, reprising her role as that force of nature, Mrs. Murphy. All of the main older characters have charming French, Irish, etc. accents, but sometimes that accent impeded my understanding all the lines. Maybe that’s just me. Just a thought.
What struck me about this show is the amount of love and care lavished on each of the little girls under the older people’s care. Miss Clavel clearly cares about her charges and they, in turn, adore her. And Mrs. Murphy, the dotty Irish cook obviously loves and dotes on those little girls, too. Refreshing is the best word I can think of.
With book and lyrics by Jennifer Kirkeby and music by Shirley Meir, “Madeline’s Christmas” is directed by the incomparable and irrepressible Matt Conner. The totally imaginative, beautiful, and whimsical scenic design and costumes, as well as puppet designs are by Margie Jervis, whose extensive design experience comes to the fore in this production. And Stephen Gregory Smith’s clever choreography and Iyona Blake’s robust music direction are evident in the spirited and creative singing and dancing by the entire cast.
Rounding out the cast are the Little Girls: Evelyn Moorman, Alessandra Simmons-Robles, Sophia Rader, Ella Krauss, Madeline Aldana, Sofia Sami, Sofia Marcus, Abby Fred, Mai Gabra, Bevin Mills, Carmen Ortiz, Enola Danewitz, Jaimie Friedlander, and the Magician’s Assistants/Mice Puppeteer/Townspeople: Marianne Meade, Lily Kales, Gizem Onerci, Arianna Vargas, Bevin Mills, Carmen Ortiz, and Enola Danewitz. One of the Little Girls, Evelyn Moorman, spoke with me briefly after the show and told me that she has been singing and playing the violin since pre-kindergarten. I believe it! She is totally natural onstage and her abundant energy radiates into the audience. Trust me, gather up your families and see this!
Performance and Ticket Information: “Madeline’s Christmas” runs through December 23 at Creative Cauldron, 410 S. Maple Street, Falls Church, VA 22046. Free parking in the 400 and 410 S. Maple Building Parking Garages. For tickets and information call 703-436-9948 or go online www.creativecauldron.org.