Review: ‘Madeline’s Christmas’ at Creative Cauldron

This holiday season, Creative Cauldron reprises 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. Performing in a project from their musical training Program, young aspiring actors get to showcase their growing talent in this musical adaptation under the direction of Matt Conner. Festive and fun, this show has already enjoyed two sold-out runs and it’s easy to see why!

Shaina Virginia Kuhn as Miss Clavel and Gabriela Simmons-Robles as Madeline. Photo by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

Set design is a tricky field for this particular space; it is an intimate black box theater known for producing shows with both large casts and enthusiastic dance numbers. With little room to spare, Scenic Designer Margie Jervis had to be particularly thoughtful and inventive. Over the years I’ve seen many impressive sets under her design and Madeline is no exception. Behind a backdrop of falling snow, she somehow manages to fit twelve (!) 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.

“In an old house in Paris, covered in vines, lived 12 little girls in two straight lines.”

This familiar phrase opens the show with the number “Old House in Paris,” where Madeline (Gabriela Simmons-Robles) and her schoolmates are enjoying a day at the zoo with their teacher Miss Clavel (Shaina Virginia Kuhn). Fearless and friendly, Madeline gets far 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!

When all the girls are unable to go home for Christmas, it’s up to Madeline to nurse them back to health, and somehow muster some holiday cheer while doing so. What follows is an enchanting adventure full of thrills and delights! With the help of a befriended rug merchant/magician named Harsha (Ryan Sellers), Madeline and the girls enjoy their Christmas Eve with ice cream, a friendly new pet, and…a magical carpet ride around the Eiffel Tower.

Ryan Sellers as Harsha and Laura Connors Hull as Mrs. Murphy. Photo by Keith Waters/Kx Photography

I always encourage families to take their kids to shows that feature young actors, particularly if they are interested in the arts. Seeing their peers pursue their passions onstage is inspiring, empowering, and just plain fun. The girls (all twelve of them) show a lot of potential in their roles. While some performances could use some fine-tuning, the overall quality is impressive—surely thanks to the steady support and guidance of the adult cast and crew. Ryan Sellers is great as the mysterious, magical Harsha, and his number “Abracadabra” is easily the most memorable. Shaina Virginia Kuhn is charming as Miss Clavel, a conscientious teacher who learns to lighten up a little and live in the moment, and Creative Cauldron’s own Producing Director Laura Connors Hull steals scenes as Mrs. Murphy, the silly school cook. It’s obvious that the cast has a whole lot of fun onstage and that energy reaches easily into the audience.

Creative Cauldron’s whimsical, wonderful Madeline’s Christmas is a great choice for families looking for some holiday fun. A Christmas carpet ride, anyone?

Madeline’s Christmas plays through December 23, 2018, at Creative Cauldron – 410 South Maple Avenue in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call (703) 436-9948 or purchase them online.