Sunday, December 2, 2012


Stages Theatre Company's 2012 Production of Madeline's Christmas
l. to r.: Georgia Conlin as Kate, Kacie Riddle as Madeline, and Macailah Maxwell as Isabelle
Photo by Bruce Challgren of
In an old house in ParisThat 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. This year the production has come back "home" to Stages Theatre Company under the direction of Artistic Director, Sandy Boren-Barrett.

Stages Theatre Company's 2007 production of Madeline's Christmas
Photo: Bruce Challgren
I have told a lot of people that adapting this story into a musical was a labor of love. It truly 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. The play needed final approval by Barbara Bemelmans, Ludwig’s daughter. And this approval happened after Shirley and I had put countless hours into the script, lyrics, and music. Lucky for us, Barbara gave it the thumbs up. 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.
Stages Theatre Company's 2007 production of Madeline's Christmas
Photo: Bruce Challgren

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 to decide how to make those magical elements work!

The first production of Madeline's Christmas was at Stages Theatre Company in 2004. Since that production, it has been published by Dramatic Publishing Company, and has been seen in over 80 theatres nationwide.
Thank you to the following theatres who are producing it this year!
Stages Theatre Company Hopkins, MN
Children's Christian Theatre, Garland, TX
The Van Meter Theater of Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY
The Phipps Center for the Arts, Hudson, WI
Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, Gulfport, MS
Newnam Theatre Company, Newnam, G
Horizon Theatre Company, Atlanta, GA
Topeka Civic Theatre & Academy, Topeka, KS
The Spartanburg Youth Theatre, Spartanburg, SC
Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Charleston Stage, Charleston, SC
Theatre of Western Springs, Western Springs, IL
Theatre IV, Richmond, VA
Omaha Theater Company, Omaha, NE
Sutter Street Theatre, Folsom, CA

Stages Theatre Company's 2007 production of Madeline's Christmas
Photo: Bruce Challgren
Playwright Jennifer Kirkeby and Composer Shirley Mier
I wish you all the Happiest of Holidays, a very Merry Christmas, and a joyful and healthy New Year!  
If you are interested in more information about Madeline's Christmas, or to see some of my other plays, please visit Dramatic Publishing. In the keyword search click on "title", then type in: Madeline's Christmas. To see other titles, go to keyword search, click on "author's last name" and type in Kirkeby.
To read an excerpt of Madeline's Christmas:
you can read exerpt once you've entered Madeline's Christmas in the keyword search.

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