BWW Reviews: Adventure Theatre MTC's World Premiere, THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS Is Festive, Fun-Filled

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Adventure Theatre MTC brings something a little different to the holiday season. The world premiere from award-winning local playwright Renee Calarco, The Twelve Days of Christmas, focuses on the familiar song, but with a twist.

Shirley, the newly minted, recognizable partridge in the pear tree (Helen Hayes Award-winner Deidra LaWan Starnes), is in a bit of a pickle. Her mother and grandparents have always had an easy time bringing together the swans, the golden rings, the pipers and everyone else to perform the elaborate song over the holidays as a collective unit. Yet, as this goal-oriented, committed, earnest and eager avian friend takes over the organization job, she discovers it's not so easy to bring everyone together and pull off the performance without a hitch.

Many of the would-be players (Megan Graves, Katherine Turner, Danny Pushkin, and Jaysen Wright in multiple roles) explain away their or their cohort's absences - for example, why the calling birds are unavailable to perform their yearly duties. When a hoarder (Danny Pushkin) steals the golden rings from Shirley, she realizes she's really going to have to do something amazing to meet her goals. Finding a new friend in the awkward swan Alyssa (Megan Graves) and later some suave and well-practiced dancers (Katherine Turner and Jaysen Wright), she finds the strength in herself and her friends to do what she thinks is right and make some new holiday musical traditions.

Calarco fundamentally has an interesting idea with this play - melding a classic Christmas memory with a humorous and fun-filled tale that contemporary children are more apt to enjoy. The dialogue can get slightly corny, repetitive and grating for the adults in the room at times especially as Shirley encounters similar situations in nearly every scene. However, the goofy, hyper characters mostly keep the children's attention as does the shiny, expansive set of piled Christmas present boxes (Steven Royal), comedic physical movement (Adventure Theatre MTC Artistic Director Michael Bobbitt), colorful costumes (Chelsey Schuller), humorous sound design (Thomas Sowers), and theatricalized lighting (Jason Arnold). With some refinement - the show becomes more interesting after the hoarder appears - this could become a local, holiday favorite for the youth in our area.

Director Michael Dove - taking a stab at directing something that's far from his usual dark, adult fare - proves his versatility with this production. He has also assembled a strong cast ready to give their all to bring Calarco's world to the children and parents visiting Glen Echo Park.

Starnes, a regular at many DC theatres taking on contemporary plays as well as Shakespeare, is adorably imperfect as our heroine partridge. While the voice she uses to bring life to her character can get tiresome and annoying, one has to give her credit for fleshing out her character and making Shirley someone that's relatable and that you want to see succeed.

Graves has a standout movement as Alyssa - the swan that just wants to be herself. Her unrelenting energy and likeable persona make the moments Alyssa is onstage some of the strongest in the show. Turner, fresh off an intense role in Ford Theatre's The Laramie Project , more than demonstrates that she can handle pretty much any role and do it well. As a comedy club performer, poised and elegant dancer, and many others, she lights up the stage whenever she's on. Pushkin is not particularly menacing as the hoarder, but mostly rises to the occasion in giving voice to the villain and also taking on a variety of other smaller parts. Jaysen Wright rounds out the cast and proves an asset to the ensemble.

In the end, this is a fun show that's likely to delight. And really, that's what it's all about.

Running Time: Nearly one hour without an intermission.

The Twelve Days of Christmas plays at Adventure Theatre MTC - 7300 MacArthur Blvd (Glen Echo Park), Glen Echo, MD - through December 30, 2013. For tickets, visit the box office or purchase them online.

Photo: Bruce Douglas (Deidra LaWan Starnes and Megan Graves pictured)

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From This Author Jennifer Perry