Six years after the Rose last staged a fine production of “Madeline’s Christmas,” a new version that opens tonight manages to be better.
The singing is strong and clear, scenery and costumes are both clever and colorful, the adult cast members are superb — and the girls, cast a little older this year, are impossible-to-resist charmers.
The musical, based on the children’s books by Ludwig Bemelmans, of course centers on Madeline, the littlest of “12 little girls in two straight lines.” Director Kevin Ehrhart has double-cast the lead role. At a Tuesday preview, Hayley Bryer infused a winning performance with boundless energy, spirit and kindness.
As Christmas nears the girls and their teacher, Miss Clavel, enjoy a day at the zoo. Only Madeline wears her scarf, and everyone else comes down with the flu — even Miss Clavel and the school’s cook, Mrs. Murphy.
It looks like the sick little girls won’t be able to travel home to be with their families. Madeline cancels her own trip to feed and take care of them.
Madeline also takes in Harsha, a half-frozen rug salesman, and thaws him out with hot soup. Her selflessness is rewarded when he turns out to be a magician with powers that will restore holiday cheer.
Walter Shatley does a nice job as the exotic, turbaned rug salesman, and Ryle Smith brings fussbudget humor to the role of Monsieur Brun, a teacher who does not want to catch the girls’ sneezes.
Mary Carrick’s stellar character turn as Mrs. Murphy also snags laughs as the high-strung cook sneezes, flirts, freaks over a mouse and turns apoplectic over the sight of flying carpets.
As warm and kind Miss Clavel, Wendy Eaton sings beautiful soprano counterpoint to the girls’ melody in “Joy of the Season,” a musical high point for the show.
Scenic designer Mark Parrott’s colorful, detailed backdrop painting of the Paris boarding school where the girls live greets audiences as they enter. Behind it, and just as attractive to the eye, is the Paris skyline dominated by a 19-foot Eiffel Tower silhouetted against lighting designer Carson Gross’ changing sky. Beautiful.
Sherri Geerdes’ costumes in primary colors — red coats, yellow hats, blue dresses for the girls, all trimmed in black and white — provide memorable images. A bright pink mouse (Lorin King, personality plus) is also a hit.
Musical director Kevin Smith coaxes a lovely sound out of the girls on “We’re Flying” and “Bon Annee” (French for happy New Year), and singers kept in sync with recorded accompaniment, a tricky thing to do.
Only a flying sequence felt slightly disappointing — not enough fog to give the illusion of clouds beneath the carpets — but the black lighting was fun anyway.
Preteen children, plus their parents and grandparents, should enjoy this holiday trifle, which runs about 100 minutes with intermission.
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