A Cute and Cozy Christmas Eve
The Milwaukee Entertainment Group enters the holidays with Michelle L. Vacca’s Twas the Night Before Christmas. It’s a brief, little musical fantasy set in a dreamy Victorian family home that is sweet and wholesome. Tom Marks directs his own adaptation of the play specifically for the basement space in the cozy Brumder Mansion on West Wisconsin Avenue. Henry Hammond and Susie Duecker foster a reassuring and nurturing emotional holiday background as a pair of parents preparing for the arrival of a single relative: the old curmudgeonly Aunt Winifred. Donna Kummer asserts herself quite sternly in the role--one that requires her to be intimidating to a cast of adorable child actors including a well-poised Isabella Lozier as eldest daughter Elizabeth, a mischievous Seth Hoffman as son Timothy and Maddie Beeghly as little Virginia who is teased for still believing in Santa Claus.
The energy of the production runs almost entirely on narrative tradition. There’s not much here that feels fresh or original but that’s scarcely a problem as Vacca’s script renders cliche in a way that isn’t ever given a chance to be tedious. There’s a dreamy cuteness woven into the basic premise of the show. The ensemble is given plenty of opportunity to build enough emotional momentum to carry warmth and cheer through the entire 90 minutes or so plus intermission.
The cheery domestic sitcom in the first half of the play gives way to fantasy in the second half as the father played by Henry Hammond is imagined to be the unknown author who really wrote A Visit from St. Nicholas. (Clement Clark Moore is credited with authorship, but there are who suggest that it may have been written by someone else.) Hammond settles into a spare moment to compose a poem for his little daughter Virginia to prove to her that yes, there is a Santa Claus.
It's interesting to follow the implications of the story...the poem that's being written here is cited as being the origin of the modern conception of a jolly, cheerful Santa Claus. It's not explicitly stated in the script, but here we have the author of A Visit from St. Nicholas specifically writing the poem that created Santa Claus for his daughter who wants desperately to believe in a character with whom she's already quite familiar. So in this instance we have Virginia as a sort of co-author of the modern conception of the character. Much to everyone’s surprise, Santa really DOES show-up bead, red velvet and all accompanied by Chris Goode, Amie Losi and a couple of others from the rest of the ensemble as companion toys. With Santa in attendance, the production eases into deeper fantasy that plays like a little dollhouse dream in the basement of the historic mansion. Big emotions and bigger traditions play out on a tiny stage that makes the whole experience feel like a handcrafted gift box of a show that might make the perfect small-scale alternative to larger, more crowded and glossy holiday fare.
Milwaukee Entertainment Group’s staging of Twas the Night Before Christmas runs through Dec. 23 at the Brumder Mansion Bed and Breakfast on 3046 West Wisconsin Avenue. For ticket reservations and more information, visit Milwaukee Entertainment Group online.