French Children, Bears and Binge Drinking Mean It¬'s Christmas at Newnan Theatre Company
Newnan Theatre Company is opening the 2012 Christmas season with two charming Christmas plays for children and an adult parody of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."
The double feature children's show includes "Madeline's Christmas," adapted from the delightful children's story by Ludwig Bemelmans, and "A Winnie the Pooh Christmas Tail," based on the stories by A.A. Milne with the script, music and lyrics by James W. Rodgers.
For adults who need an antidote to holiday sentimentality, Jeff Allen is directing "Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge," by Christopher Durang.
The two-act children's show opens on the Main Stage Friday evening December 7 and runs through the next two weekends, with both morning and afternoon shows each Saturday. "Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge" plays in the Black Box Theater at 8 pm on Thursdays, 10:30 pm Fridays, and 8 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Before each Saturday children's show (December 8 and 15), starting at 9:15 am, the Big Man with the white beard in the red suit will join Madeline, Winnie-the-Pooh and some of their best friends for a special Christmas tea with songs, games, holiday goodies, and pictures with Santa, Madeline, Pooh, and other characters. Tea with Santa is $15.00, or for $25.00 you can enjoy the tea AND see the 11:00 am show on the same day.
Laura Pratesi, directing "Madeline's Christmas," is well known for her starring roles in NTC productions such as "Cinderella," "Epic Proportions" and "And Then There Were None."
"This is my directorial debut," said Pratesi. "I've done lots of other things at the theatre: stage managing, lights, etc., but this is the first time I've been in charge. I feel the weight of the responsibility! I'm very grateful that our Artistic Director Paul Conroy felt I was up to the task."
"Madeline's Christmas" takes place in an old house in Paris where twelve little girls attend boarding school. The girls want to go home for Christmas, but they've all caught the flu because they forgot to wear their scarves, which they'd washed, all except for Madeline. She forgot to wash her scarf – it was dirty but she wore it anyway – and consequently didn't get sick.
"Madeline is full of gumption and bravery. She's the smallest of the twelve little girls, but she becomes the leader of the pack. She steps up and takes care of everybody," said Pratesi.
"There's a magical surprise at the end that gives them a way to fulfill their Christmas wishes. You'll have to see the show to find out what it is," Pratesi added.
"I have a really amazing cast of girls. They are so talented – any one of them could have been Madeline," said Pratesi. "They have a wide range of experience – one of was a character in 'The Hunger Games.' Several have worked with professional theatres in the area, such as the Fox. People came from all over."
"The book never goes into detail about the personalities of the other little girls, but the performers have done their research and found a personality for each child. So you don't just see 'twelve little girls in two straight lines.' You see individuals who just happen to be at this boarding school and have become friends growing up together," added Pratesi.
Dave Dorrell, NTC's managing director, is playing Harsha the rug merchant and magician, Allison Rohan, who was in "Seussical," has the role of Miss Clavell, and Melinda Copeland is playing Mrs. Murphy, the school cook.
Robbie Kirkland is the musical director. He leads the NITWITS and has starred in several NTC productions, including "The Glass Menagerie."
Choreographer Brooke Trahan has performed in "Seussical," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat" and "Cinderella."
"She is a high student who volunteered to do the choreography," said Pratesi. "She has had a lot of dance training, but being choreographer is a first for her, and I think she's done a really good job."
"I love what they've done, and with each rehearsal they get better," Pratresi added.
Kristi Rapson, a member of NTC's Board of Directors, is directing "A Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail."
"We have a wonderful cast of young adults: Sarah Demelow as Winnie-the-Pooh, Casey Bunce as Christopher Robin, Sydney Willard as Rabbit, Katy McGloughlin as Piglet, Jessica Pearson as both Eeyore and Tigger, and Sarah Beth Rapson as Owl and Kanga," said Rapson.
Rapson has been directing shows since high school. As the drama director at the Dogwood Church in Tyrone, she writes sketches for the drama team based on sermon topics as well as scripts for videos, directing and acting as well.
"But this is the very first time I've ever directed a musical. Thankfully it's a one-act! It's been nice to have a new challenge," she said.
Christopher Robin tells a story about Eeyore, the old gray donkey who lives by himself in the thistle corner of Hundred-Acre Wood. He is miserable because he has lost his tail, and everyone, including Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet, is trying to help their friend.
"We are not going with the Disney version of the production," said Rapson. "We've gone back to the essence of A.A. Milne's classic Christmas story, so the look of the show is going to be more along the lines of the classic pictures in the Milne books, a more rustic look than the shiny, bedazzled Disney styling. It's going to be really sweet. At the core of it, our inspiration is Christopher Robin's imagination. He's playing with his stuffed animals in the woods and imagining stories where they come to life. It's really a cute show."
Bonnie Krider is the musical director and Kelly Callen is stage manager. "It's a great team, and the show has been a lot of fun to do," said Rapson.
For several years now, Jeff Allen has made it his business to provide Christmas entertainment for adults with a cynical turn of mind. This year he is directing "Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge," by Christopher Durang, a musical parody of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." There are some comically darker moments that some younger Yule tiders may find mature, but mom and dad will love this in-your-face romp through a world that even Dickens himself couldn't imagine. Chloe Beckman (SF Weekly Arts) describes the play as a "gleeful demolition job on the very notion of the enduring masterpiece." Allen, a masterful comedian himself who directed "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues" last year, is in his element with this raucous satire.
"There are two Mrs. Bob Cratchits," explains Allen. "Sarah Lees plays the goody-goody one, and Mary Caroline Moore is the Mrs. Cratchit who undergoes a violent character change leading to her wild Christmas binge." (With twenty-one starving children and a perpetually cheerful husband, who wouldn't?)
"Rick Parerra from Atlanta, a new face for us, is playing Ebenezer Scrooge," continues Allen. "Valerie McKay is playing the Ghost of past, present and future. She's coming from Alpharetta, and she is wonderful. Lenton Lees, familiar to audiences in other NTC productions, is playing Bob Cratchit."
As the Ghost whisks Ebenezer off to different places, Mrs. Cratchit gets caught up in all the "whisking" and ends up going into the future. "She is very frustrated with her life – she's not in a happy place," said Allen. "But in the course of the play she eventually finds her happiness."
Durang doesn't mind borrowing from other great Christmas stories and dragging in other characters. Clarence the Angel shows up from "It's a Wonderful Life." Monica and Tess from "Touched by an Angel" make an appearance. The Ghost accidentally takes Scrooge into the lives of Oliver Twist and Leona Helmsley as well. The play also alludes to the Enron scandal and "The Gift of the Magi."
"There are musical numbers, as in any good Christmas show. There's also a moral, though we're not quite sure what it is. We'll leave it up to the audience to figure out," added Allen.
To purchase tickets, and for show dates and times, visit Newnan Theatre Company's web site at http://newnantheatre.org or visit the box office before or after any performance. The theater is located in historic downtown Newnan at 24 First Avenue.
Photo caption: Mary Caroline Moore (Mrs. Bob Cratchit), Molly McInturf (Madeline) and Sarah Demelow (Winnie-the-Pooh) all appear at Newnan Theatre Company for the holiday season.
Story written by Joan Doggrell.