Thursday, December 18, 2008


Playwright Jennifer Kirkeby and Composer Shirley Mier at GREAT Theatre
Photo by Mick Kirkeby

Madeline's Christmas at Stages Theatre Company, 2007
Photos by Bruce Challgren

In an old house in Paris
That was covered with vines
Lived twelve little girls
In two straight lines.
They left the house at half-past nine
In two straight lines, in rain or shine.
The smallest one was MADELINE.

Madeline’s Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans, was originally written as a special book insert in the 1956 Christmas edition of McCall’s. The book was published in 1985. In 2003, composer Shirley Mier and I were fortunate enough to be asked to adapt this classic tale of the beloved and ever spunky Madeline for the Stages Theatre Company.

Since that time, Madeline’s Christmas has been published by Dramatic Publishing Company. It has been produced in over fifty theatres in the U.S. This year it is being performed in the following theatres:

Dallas Children’s Theatre, Dallas, TX
Milpitas Rainbow Theatre, Milpitas, CA
Roanoke Children’s Theatre, Roanoke, VA
Berkshire Children’s Theater, Pittsfield, MA
Horizon Theatre Company, Atlanta, GA
Harwich Junior Theatre, West Harwich, MA
Premier Arts, Elkhart, IN
Project DayDream, Birmingham, MI
Theatre of Youth Company, Inc., Buffalo, NY
Cretin-Derham Hall H.S., St. Paul, MN
California Theatre Center, Sunnyvale, CA
A Magical Journey Through Stage, Rochester, NY
Town Hall Theatre, Dayton, OH
Great River Educational Arts, St. Cloud, MN
Germantown Community Theatre, Germantown, TN
Stebens Children’s Theatre, Mason City, IA
Spokane Children’s Theatre, Spokane, WA
Oakcrest School, McLean, VA
BroadHollow Theatre Company, East Islip, NY

Here is the description of the musical which can be found on Dramatic Publishing’s website:

"In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines." So begins this delightful story of Madeline's Christmas! The day begins like any other day. Miss Clavel takes the twelve little girls on their morning walk. They go to the zoo and then back to school for their French history lesson. Suddenly disaster strikes when everyone gets the flu! Everyone that is, except for the ever-resilient Madeline. Saddened that they may not be able to go home for Christmas, the girls and Miss Clavel take to their beds. But on Christmas Eve, the adventure begins when there is a knock at the front door. Expecting to see Santa, Madeline meets the Rug Merchant who has brought twelve very special rugs. He reminds Madeline that Christmas is the time of miracles, and that these are not ordinary rugs! Soon everyone wakes up feeling healthy. The Rug Merchant shows them that they each have a magic carpet and that they can fly home to be with their families for Christmas! After saying goodbye to the girls, Miss Clavel finds a present that the girls left for her, befriends a little mouse, and counts her many blessings singing: "Everything Is Right Tonight." Before you know it, the girls fly back to the Old House and are together again on New Year's Eve. They thank Madeline for taking care of them and making their Christmas so special!"

I have told a lot of people that adapting this story into a musical was a labor of love. It really was. Like many young girls, I grew up reading the Madeline books, and I read them to my own daughters as well. Creating the world in which Madeline, the twelve little girls, Miss Clavel, Mrs. Murphy, and the rug merchant (I named him Harsha), live was magical.

Part of the agreement for me to be able to adapt Ludwig Bemelmans’ book was to stay true to his original story. Also, the play had to be approved by Barbara Bemelmans, Ludwig’s daughter. And this approval happened after I had put countless hours into the script and lyrics. Luckily, Barbara gave it the thumbs up, and she even gave me some feedback as to what she felt her father would and wouldn’t have written in certain scenes. She told me that it was very important that the “twelve little girls” always show respect, especially to Miss Clavel. She even gave me some suggestions for names of the girls. I will always be grateful to her for helping me to forward the script in that way.

As with any adaptation, there were questions that I needed to answer for the audience. Why did everyone but Madeline get sick? There isn’t any explanation in the book. I decided that Madeline was the only one who remembered to wear her scarf when they go on their morning walk. Being a mom and raising my girls in a cold climate, I thought this might help a few parents while trying to encourage their children to dress warmly.

I also wanted the twelve little girls to be different from one another. On the page they are somewhat like a Greek chorus with their collective “boo hoo’s” and precise straight lines. To give them individuality, I gave them all names and different traits. The more challenging parts of the story occur when the magician makes the dishes move by themselves, and when all of the girls fly on magic carpets to go home for Christmas. One of the great things about being a playwright is that you can write things like: “Plates magically move on cupboard.” “Girls fly on magic carpets by the Eiffel tower.” Then the director and tech crew have meetings and decide how that is going to work!

The first production at Stages Theatre Company of Madeline’s Christmas in 2004 is still the top selling show in the theatre’s history. Last year I was asked to play Miss Clavel for the second production at Stages. It was a delight, and being on the other side of the stage performing 51 shows during the holidays gave me a whole new perspective!

This year I was fortunate enough to be able to see a few of the productions of Madeline’s Christmas. The first one was at the Dallas Children’s Theater. Robyn Flatt, the Artistic Director, the staff, cast and crew were gracious and inviting. My husband, Mick and I were welcomed warmly the minute we entered the lobby. Robyn Flatt gave us a tour of their impressive theatre space. This year is DCT’s 25th anniversary, so prior to the opening show, Robyn gave a speech and then introduced me to the audience. I told them how excited I was to have the opportunity to see the production, and what a great time my husband and I were having in Dallas.

The production was beautiful. Everything from the rich and whimsical set designed by Randel Wright and direction and choreography by Nancy Schaeffer, to the wonderful cast was absolutely delightful. Madeline and the twelve girls were double cast, and fortunately we were able to see both. The flying scene was amazing! I wish that I could thank everyone by name, but I don’t have enough room. Thank you, DCT!

Composer Shirley Mier and I went to see Madeline’s Christmas in St. Cloud, Minnesota at the GREAT Theatre. (Great River Educational Arts Theatre.) They perform in the gorgeous Historic Paramount Theatre. We were welcomed at once by Artistic Director, Dennis Whipple. The theatre was full, and we enjoyed watching the lovely production. GREAT Theatre also double cast the show, which is a challenge during the rehearsal process, but ultimately gave more people the chance to perform. (And a double cast is always very helpful if someone should forget to wear their scarf and get sick!)

After the show, Shirley and I spoke to the cast, crew, and season ticket members, and answered some questions.

“How long did it take to write Madeline’s Christmas?”
I keep telling myself that I need to keep track the next time I write a play. Madeline’s Christmas was at least a year in the making, but that includes outlines, rewrites, waiting for approval, etc.

“How many other theatres have performed Madeline’s Christmas?” Over fifty.

“How did you write the songs?”
I wrote the lyrics and then Shirley Mier wrote the music.

“Who is your favorite character?”
All of them, of course!

Merci to all of the theatres who are performing Madeline’s Christmas! It is such an amazing feeling to listen to the words that you have written being performed onstage with such enthusiasm, excitement and truth. I am indeed fortunate to have had this opportunity, and I am truly grateful.

I wish you all the Happiest of Holidays, a very Merry Christmas, and a joyful and healthy New Year!


Tutti Chic said...

My absolute favorite series of childhood books!! Looks like a fabulous time at the play! :) chris

Mermaid Queen said...

Merci for the behind the scences look at Madeline. It's fascinating to learn about all the work behind your wonderful play.
Take care,

All the World's a Blog said...

Thank you for your nice comments! Madeline certainly is a beloved character, and we have had some adventures together!
Best Wishes,

Diedre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.


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