The excited anticipation of a break from school, and bouts of the cold and flu, are as much time-honored harbingers of the holiday season for youngsters as decorations, candy and carols.
Lexington Children's Theatre's latest production, Madeline's Christmas, features a dozen boarding-school girls facing that plight: They are excited to spend Christmas at home but are much too sick to go. That's where Madeline comes in.
Feisty, fearless and flu-free, Madeline tends to her sick classmates, who, with the help of a little Christmas magic, are cured just in time to go home for Christmas.
A musical adaptation based on the beloved series of Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans, Madeline's Christmas is a Discovery production, meaning its principal actors are not LCT's company of professional actors but youngsters from across Central Kentucky.
Director Vivian Snipes takes advantage of the Lexington Opera House's stage, quickly flying storybook Parisian scenery on and off the stage while black-clothed "ninjas" make theater magic.
The scenery, originally designed by Eric Morris, was remounted for this show by Jerome Wills. Replicating the technique of Japanese human art, these invisible performers create intricately choreographed illusions that are highlights of the story — as when 12 carpets fly or the magician who helps Madeline save Christmas grows vastly taller.
But theater magic is not the main star of the show in Madeline's Christmas. Rather, it is the talent and vigor evident in the young cast that is most praiseworthy.
Chief among them is 11-year-old Abby Quammen, a student of The Lexington School, in the title role. Her pep and charisma is worthy of Madeline, and she tackles the role with verve.
The roles of Madeline's 11 classmates also are particularly well cast. They, along with Quammen, form the iconic 12 little girls in two straight lines who live in Madeline's Parisian boarding school. They function as a tight, enthusiastic ensemble and particularly excel in the play's more humorous moments, such as the playful French lesson by Monsieur B (played with subdued charm by Henry Clay High School senior Hans Hayes).
Musically, Carly Crawford delivers a memorable, stirring performance in Act 2's opening number, Something Isn't Right. Singing with a fake French accent isn't easy, and Crawford more than delivers.
Perhaps the most welcome surprise of the production is the discovery of Devan Pruitt. He plays Harsha, the spirited, kind and playful magician and rug salesman who cures the young girls and sends them home on a magic carpet ride.
At first, I thought Devan was one of LCT's professional actors — he wore the magician's cape and turban with confidence, easily elocuting into the balcony section of the Opera House where I was sitting — but a close look at the program revealed that he was a senior at Anderson County High School.
Devan seemed at ease on the stage, even in moments that might intimidate a novice, as when his character's magic turned him into a larger-than-life version of himself as he sang the show's catchiest and most complicated number, Abracadabra.