The Christmas Doll
by Children's Theatre of Charlotte

(L-R) Caroline Bower, Ben Mackel and Emily Calder star in Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s world premiere production of “The Christmas Doll”. Photo by Donna Bise.Children’s Theatre of Charlotte is debuting a new musical by Joan Cushing (Junie B. Jones, Miss Nelson is Missing) based on Elvira Woodruff’s story The Christmas Doll. It’s a Dickensian tale about two orphaned sisters who flee a cruel and plague-filled workhouse, but find life on the streets during a cold London winter can be just as dangerous. But the optimistic and streetwise Nick Button, doll store owner Mrs. Thimblebee, warm memories of their loving parents, and their own love for each other give them a chance.

Elder sister Lucy Wolcott is old enough to be pragmatic but young enough to feel inexperienced and unready for the great responsibility thrust upon her. When her younger sister Glory is sent to the sick room where their friends have been dying, Lucy’s protective instinct compels her to take Glory and escape to the streets, warming her cold and sick sister with the oft-told story of how their mother made Glory a special doll called Morning Glory – a lost doll that will eventually be found again. When Glory finds a doll similar to Lucy’s description in the mud as they scavenge for things to sell, it becomes a source of hope and joy for Glory, but a source of mixed emotions for Lucy who knows she can sell that doll for the money they need to survive.

Caroline Bower is Lucy, and she captures those torn feelings especially well – both the delight she feels on seeing her sick sister glow with newfound hope, and the quickly dawning realization that she may need to break her sister’s heart in order to save her. Caroline also has a beautiful and warm voice that makes for some great solos including If I Were a Well-Born Girl and expressing her tender affection for her sister so well in a lullaby One Kiss for Love, One Kiss for Luck (later accompanied by the spirits of their late parents). Eighth-grader Emily Calder captures the extreme fragility of fever-weakened Glory and the fear she feels as her friends die in the workhouse, and she brightens so completely when charmed by the stories of her parents, the love of Lucy, and the whimsy of their new friend Nick Button.

Ben Mackel is the charismatic Nick who enlivens the bleak beginning of the show with his And I Get By number as he tries to entertain passersby on the street for some change (without much success). He gives the girls both friendship and some expert help as they eek out life on the street. The enormously talented actor and singer Amy Van Looy adds much to the production through her three roles – all related in nature. First she is the only warm and cheery adult at the workhouse who treats the girls with motherly love as the cockney soup server Old Poll. Then she is the late Mrs. Wolcott doting on her new baby Glory when Lucy’s story of Morning Glory is played out on stage. As Lucy’s story ends, unseen by the children, the visions of Mrs. Wolcott and her husband (Chaz Pofahl) turn to gaze at their cold and frightened children with a look of sadness, concern, and helplessness. Lastly, Amy is doll shop owner Mrs. Thimblebee who lives a rich life bringing pleasure to children through her dolls. She gives Lucy an opportunity to escape the street with a job sewing hearts on the dolls’ dresses, but Mrs. Thimblebee’s own heart is in pain for a child she once knew – a pain that can be soothed by a single act of charity.

Other good performances come from Mark Sutton as both the mean proprietor of a rag-and-bones shop, and as the wife of said proprietor who laments with comical harshness that It’s a Cruel, Cruel World. Barbi VanSchaick is the very cross and intimidating Matron Wick running the workshop. A group of orphan girls feature several terrific singing voices. Their performances are instrumental in setting the early tone and the shocking seriousness of the show when the sweet, young girls, already living under harsh conditions, begin living in fear as they see their friends dying from the highly contagious fever.

Director Alan Poindexter creates a visually spellbinding production – the dark, gray, and cold Victorian London contrasted to the warmth and beauty of Thimblebee’s doll shop that is the centerpiece to Bob Crogan’s gorgeous sets. He also designed the costumes, which complement the set and time period. The play begins with a pretty long, dark, depressing, and somewhat episodic buildup that might temporarily lose the interest of some of the younger audience members (and even some of the older ones), but the mixture of emotions and tempo improves after the girls escape from the workhouse and run into Nick Button. Joan Cushing’s musical score is very pleasant and enhances the emotions of the tale, many of which are obviously dark and not your typical sort of holiday family fare, but will ultimately make for a rewarding, heartfelt experience.

Performed November 30 - December 16, 2007.

Photos by Donna Bise.

Rob Hopper
Executive Director
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~
The cast of Children’s Theatre of Charlotte’s world premiere production of “The Christmas Doll”. Photo by Donna Bise.

Lucy Wolcott: Caroline Bower
Glory Wolcott: Emily Calder
Nick Button: Ben Mackel
Mrs. Thimblebee/Old Poll/Mrs. Wolcott: Amy Van Looy
Kitchen Woman/Mr. Nuggins/Florrie Nuggins: Mark Sutton
Nora Copperwait/Bess: Nicia Carla
Doctor/Mr. Wolcott/Constable: Chaz Pofahl
Mistress Branch/Iris/Beggarwoman: Gina Stewart
Matron Wick/Highborn Lady/Washerwoman: Barbi VanSchaick
Emma: Hayden Rockecharlie
Charlotte: Savannah Devore
Aggie Crofter: Caroline Kasay
Sarah Henley: April Crumpler
Emma Waverly: Heidi Woodward
Anna Farish
Tierney Lanham
Alexis Nyrindeh
Maddie Lanphear
Jackie Lanphear
Chestnut Vendor: Tyler Jimenez
Muffin Man/Coachman: Brandon Lawler
Beggar: Jura Davis
Custodian: Steven Buchanan

Director: Alan Poindexter
Scenic & Costume Design: Bob Croghan
Music Director: Drina Keen
Choreographer: Ron Chisholm
Properties Design: Peter Smeal
Lighting Design: David M. Fillmore, Jr.
Sound Edition: Elisheba Ittoop
Production Stage Manager: Ryan Margheim


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