For their last holiday season before moving to a new location, Creative Cauldron reprises their much-loved production of Madeline’s Christmas, with book and lyrics by Jennifer Kirkeby and music by Shirley Mier, based on the beloved children’s book by Ludwig Bemelmans. Matt Conner directs this nostalgic show, with musical direction by Merissa Anne Driscoll.
Since Creative Cauldron resides in a renovated retail space, space is an important consideration for this intimate black box theater. With precious room to spare, Scenic Designer Margie Jervis has to be imaginative and inventive; behind a backdrop of falling snow, she manages to fit 12 (!) beds onstage without making it look overcrowded. Jervis also designs the costumes and puppetry for this production, using simple but effective materials to mimic the original book illustrations.
The show opens with the number “Old House in Paris,” where Madeline (June Tuss at my performance) and her schoolmates are enjoying a day at the zoo with their teacher Miss Clavel (Anna Phillips-Brown). Fearless and friendly, Madeline gets too close to the animals, scratching a lion’s chin as if it were a house cat. Her confidence carries over into the classroom, where she sits during a lesson (bored and unimpressed) as the girls around her erupt in a chorus of sneezes in the cute, catchy song “Achoo!” It seems that the entire school caught the flu that windy morning at the zoo—everyone except Madeline, who remembered to wear her scarf (that is, only because she neglected to wash it in the first place!).
When all the girls are unable to go home for Christmas, it’s up to Madeline to nurse them back to health, and hopefully inspire some holiday cheer while doing so. When Madeline befriends a rug merchant/magician named Harsha (Garrett Matthews understudying Noah Beye), she and the girls enjoy their Christmas Eve with ice cream, a new pet, and a magical carpet ride around the Eiffel Tower! This scene is particularly notable, with creative puppetry in the number “We’re Flying!”
The girls (all 12 of them) show a lot of potential in their roles. While some performances could use some fine-tuning, the overall quality is impressive for such young actors. Garrett Matthews is great as the mysterious, magical Harsha, and his number “Abracadabra” is easily the most memorable, thanks to impressive effects by lighting designer Lynn Joslin. Anna Phillips-Brown is charming as Miss Clavel, a cautious teacher who learns to live in the moment, and displays striking vocals in her song “Something Isn’t Right.” Lastly, Lenny Mendez steals scenes as Mrs. Murphy, the silly school cook. It’s obvious that the cast has a whole lot of fun together onstage, and the energy is infectious!
Creative Cauldron’s Madeline’s Christmas is a nostalgic, sweet treat that the whole family can enjoy!
Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.
Madeline’s Christmas plays through December 17, 2023, at Creative Cauldron – 410 South Maple Avenue, Falls Church, VA. For tickets (Tier One: $30, Tier Two: $20, Students: $18), call (703) 436-9948 or purchase them online.
Recommended for children ages four and above.
The program for Madeline’s Christmas is online here.
COVID Safety: Creative Cauldron is a mask-optional environment. Creative Cauldron’s COVID-19 Theater Protocol is available here.
Based on the book by Ludwig Bemelmans
Book and Lyrics by Jennifer Kirkeby
Music by Shirley Mier
Directed by Matt Conner
Music Direction by Merissa Anne Driscoll
Costume/Prop/Set designer: Margie Jervis
Lighting Designer: Lynn Joslin
Stage Manager: Nicholas J. Goodman
Miss Clavel: Anna Phillips-Brown
Harsha: Noah Beye
Mrs. Murphy: Lenny Mendez
Madeline: June Tuss, Diana Allison
Regine: Emerson Thiebert
Isabelle: Marianne Meade
Simone: Whit Jenkins
Dominique: Madeline Varho
Mary: Aida Gibson
Amy: Emma Howell
Juliette: Sophie Misciagno
Kate: Margaret Kruckenberg
Camille: Marie Solander
Daphne: Allison Harman
Anne: Harper Burns, Nika Temkin
The Magician’s Assistant: Carme Ortiz
Ensemble: Nika Temin, Harper Burns, JoJo Hockley, Harper Yin, Ja’Nyla Steele, Marco Romero, and Chris Espinoza