By Quinn Rigg
Shops pack themselves with peppermint, radios blair festive ear worms and christmas movie marathons run rampant from channel to channel—all before Thanksgiving turkeys have been carved. The onslaught of the holiday season is upon us.
While the pressure of consumerism motivates the nation to fill their stockings, theatre companies try to motivate audiences to fill their hearts. A collaboration between DMT Entertainment and Roxbury Road Creative presents Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas Wish, a new little Christmas musical that justifies the nation’s anticipation of the holiday season through rich aesthetics and richer heart.
With book written by Denise McGowan Tracy and music lyrics by Tracy and Kathleen Butler-Duplessis, Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas Wish bursts with festive fun for the whole family. The plot follows the titular ragdoll living at the north pole, wishing for a best friend to call her own. Eleanor is supported and loved her family of distinctive personalities at the north pole, teaching big and little kids alike that they have irrevocable worth inherent to their expression of self.
While occasionally redundant and often inefficient, the book and lyrics of this piece crackle with character, translating to endearingly heartfelt performances by a captivating cast.
Director Zachary L. Gray places interactivity at the forefront of this musical. In order to kindle the holiday spirit in children and grownups alike, two elves named Shimmer and Glimmer (played with personable gusto by Cara Chumbley and Claire Latourette, respectively) poll the audience on Christmas-related questions, sing carols and ask willing children to get into the heart of the action by sitting at the foot of the front row. This introductory warmup cleverly immerses the audience in the spirit of the world, stimulating initial investment in the story and its themes. The tenderness of the story’s subject matter is encapsulated by simple yet effective movement and blocking. Easy-to-follow choreography peppers energetic ear worms like “The Wrap It Rap” and “The Packing Song.”
Music direction and arrangement by David Fiorello brightens Eleanor’s atmosphere to a radiant glow. Accompanying the entire one act musical alone on keyboard, Fiorello makes the holiday spirit sparkle in the space. The deft navigation of dynamics and style throughout the score is reason enough to join in on the magic this team creates at the Greenhouse Theater Center.
Samantha Bozi helms this musical romp as ragdoll Eleanor. Her powerful voice rings the room and plucks the heartstrings, bringing special care to the sensitive insecurity of a toy in search of a purpose.
Lindsey Jane Bullen is an enticing narrator as Twinkle the elf. Her bubbly personality draws attention where it is due. Bullen pushes the story along with sprightly spunk that is certain to entertain children and parents alike.
Erin Parker dazzles as the tenacious Mrs. “Cookie” Claus. Whether giving honest and decisive support to her partners onstage, or commanding the room with her sonorous voice, Parker is a force of holiday cheer and theatrical astonishment.
Costume design by Tatjana Radisic sparkles and pops with cartoonish delight. Radisic spares no detail; the nuance of her costumes translates to a lively and spectacular wardrobe of a larger-than-life cast of characters.
The shimmering panache of the costume design is matched by that of the scenic design, crafted by Kehoe Designs. Colorful gift-wrapped boxes of varying shapes and sizes adorn the stage, serving as multifunctional platforms, walls, seats, tables, and more. Simple in conception, the dynamic use of these set pieces are aesthetically appropriate and functionally valuable to the motion of this musical.
With a team of expert designers baking love and character into every aspect of this show behind the scenes, Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas Wish plays to the innocence and purity of childhood, promoting audiences to seek connection in a world that continues to complicate. While the musical is not life-changing, it is certainly life-affirming. When deciding where to go for some seasonal warmth and child-friendly revelry, Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas Wish is a no-brainer.
DMT Entertainment and Roxbury Road Creative present “Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas Wish” through December 29 at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N Lincoln Ave., Chicago. More information and tickets may be found here.