Poignant musical ‘The Christmas Angel’ premieres at Creative Cauldron

From Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith, a beautiful family experience with a powerful message of love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

There are many classic Christmas tales that are remounted every year for tradition and nostalgia. But this year, Creative Cauldron has focused on a lesser-known story, The Christmas Angel, for their holiday production. The show is a part of the theater’s Bold New Works program and is adapted by local legends Stephen Gregory Smith and Matt Conner, from a book by Abbie Farwell Brown. 

Originally published in 1910, Brown’s story has drawn comparisons to Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, with a disgruntled main character who eventually discovers the true spirit of Christmas through the workings of memory and magic. 

Conner and Smith directed the production, which contains original music by Conner and book and lyrics by Smith, with some delightful traditional carols sprinkled throughout.

Kanysha Williams (Angelina) and Carl Williams (Tom) in ‘The Christmas Angel.’ Photo by William Gallagher.

Kanysha Williams plays Angelina Terry, a woman grown bitter by time and neglect who decides to destroy her treasured old Christmas gifts, which to her now seem the stuff of fiddlesticks and nonsense. 

In the song “Fiddlesticks,” Williams’s powerful booming voice is full of disdain for her once-loved items, and we see her disappointment and coldness in great contrast to the hopeful and loving child she once was.

Through a series of flashbacks with Angelina and her older brother, Tom (Carl Williams), we see as she is gifted each toy and the joy and appreciation she once had for her brother’s kindness. The cast sings “Yestermorrow,” based on a word the young Angelina made up to describe the wonderful feeling at Christmastime, filled with hopes and dreams for the future and fond memories from the past.

So how does a child so loved and loving turn into a grumpy, lonely woman? Well, early on, we learn that Tom has a gambling addiction and, having burned through his funds, is now living in a public house — something that Angelina resents and cannot forgive, despite Tom’s letters to her requesting to see her.

Angelina’s man-servant, Horton (Ryan Sellers), who plays a crucial role in her transformation, encourages her to write to Tom and attempts to persuade her to enjoy the Christmas festivities. He is going caroling and asks her to leave a candle lit for him in the window. Sellers as Horton is genuine and positive. His character is the goodness of Cratchet and Fred, with none of the heartache. 

Kanysha Williams (Angelina) and Carl Williams (Tom) in ‘The Christmas Angel.’ Photo by William Gallagher.

The ensemble is made up of the Musical Theater Training Ensemble, young performers acting alongside the professionals. What they lack in experience they make up for in energy, passion, and commitment. The kids are fantastic and play a variety of featured roles.

The toys each have their personified counterparts. This Toy Ensemble includes Jack in the Box (Owen Thiebert), Flanton Dog (Sophia Sami), Ark (Carmen Ortiz), and Miranda (Jane Keifer). The toys sing and rejoice in being “Out of the Box” after 30 years of being hidden away, only to learn that they are to be hurled into the fire. Each reminisces along with Angelina and Tom and worries about their fate.

Angelina realizes that she cannot bring herself to burn the toys; instead, she decides to hurl them outside on the sidewalk, one-by-one, for her own human experiment to see what the riff-raff of the street will do with her gifts.

Jack in the Box is seized by two kids who run off arguing about who gets to keep it. Flanton dog, a hand-made stuffed toy, is run over by a drunk driver. The Ark (Noah’s, of course) is picked up by a woman who then refuses to give it to a poorer family with young children. And Miranda, a once beautiful but now cracked doll, is determined to be too ugly to be wanted by anyone.

Gabriela Simmons-Robles (The Christmas Angel) and The Toy Ensemble in ‘The Christmas Angel.’ Photos by William Gallagher.

The show is cleverly intertwined with carollers, led by Horton, as they go from house to house. The songs are lovely interludes between the main action of the play, providing not only fun classics in original ways but also moments of levity in an otherwise sorrowful tale of a lonely woman who has lost her hope in humanity.

The show is not all humbug, though. Gracing the musical with beautiful presence and light is Gabriela Simmons-Robles, as the Christmas Angel. The young actress has a soaring voice and exudes the innocent purity one would imagine a Christmas Angel should possess. She sings “The Sweetest Gift” and then shows Angelina that there is more to the world than what she can see. 

There is a recurring theme of light in the dark, literally and figuratively. And the Angel’s hope for Angelina is to once again be that light for others, even when all she can see is darkness. The message of the show is poignant and beautifully done. It is not an uncommon theme, but this story adds more levels of relatability by presenting a woman in the lead and including the sentiment of patience and understanding for those who, through mental illness or disease, cannot always help themselves.

Angelina was hardened by disappointment and a touch of ignorance to adversity that she cannot understand. But through her journey, she sees that love does not hold an exception. And mistakes do not need to nullify affection.

Creative Cauldron’s world premiere of A Christmas Angel is a beautiful family experience, with a powerful message of love, acceptance, and forgiveness that can never be oversold. The cast performs wonderfully and the young artists of the Training Ensemble should be enormously proud of their professionalism and talent.

Smith and Conner have created yet another impressive new show, a work that will likely be celebrated and shared for many Christmases to come. Congratulations to the entire production team.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.

The Christmas Angel runs through December 19, 2021, at Creative Cauldron, 410 South Maple Avenue, Falls Church, VA. Tickets (adults $35, students $20) are available for purchase online.

COVID Safety: All patrons must wear masks. Social distancing and proof of vaccination or negative COVID test is required for everyone 12 and over. Creative Cauldron’s complete safety protocols are here.

A Bold New Works Musical Premiere
Book and lyrics by Stephen Gregory Smith
Music by Matt Conner
Adapted From The Christmas Angel by Abbie Farwell Brown

Directed by Matt Conner & Stephen Gregory Smith
Scenic Designer, Margie Jervis
Costume & Properties, Margie Jervis
Stage Manager, Nicholas Goodman
Music Director, Lucia LaNave
Lighting Designer, James Morrison

Angelina Terry: Kanysha Williams
Tom Terry/Bob Cooper: Carl Williams
Horton: Ryan Sellers
The Christmas Angel: Gabriela Simmons-Robles
The Toy Ensemble: Jack in the Box, Owen Thiebert; Flanton Dog, Sophia Sami; Ark, Carmen Ortiz; Miranda, Jane Keifer
Caroler Ensemble: Sam, Madeleine Ruffini; Ike, Sophie Silva; Poor Woman #1, Courtney Weldon; Woman in Mourning, Eliana Pizzirusso; Poor Child, Elaina Rosenberg; Poor Woman #2, Bevin Mills; Mary, Gabriela Simmons-Robles; Uncle, Courtney Weldon; Aunt, Anjali Virmani; Poor Children #2, Anjali Virmani/Madeleine Ruffini; Jo, Elaina Rosenberg


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