Eleanor's Very Merry Christmas Wish offers families a sweet holiday outing | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Eleanor's Very Merry Christmas Wish offers families a sweet holiday outing

A rag doll yearns for a forever friend in this new musical.


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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's Dolly isn't the only rag doll hoping for a forever home. In Eleanor's Very Merry Christmas Wish, a new musical by Denise McGowan Tracy (based on her 2015 book) and composer Kathleen Butler-Duplessis and produced by Tracy, the title doll spends her days at the North Pole helping out by wrapping presents and making cookies but yearns for a friend who isn't an elf.

In just over an hour, Tracy and Butler-Duplessis's sweet, surefooted show celebrates family, hope, and the importance of knowing when it's time to move on. "Wishing isn't a plan," Mrs. Claus, or "Cookie" (Erin Parker) tells Eleanor (Samantha Bonzi) while reminding her that she was named for Eleanor Roosevelt and thus should have plenty of "the stuff that we're made of, the tough that we're made of," as she sings in one number. Eleanor may be an old-fashioned doll, but holding out for someone who will appreciate her for who she is ultimately means she finds a connection with Noelle (Sydney Swanson), a six-year-old girl who isn't looking for fancy electronics.

Directed and choreographed by Zachary L. Gray, with music direction by David Fiorello, the show moves swiftly, with only a few smarty-pants interpolations for the grown-ups. Bonzi is thoroughly endearing, but the supporting cast of elves (including Emily Rohm's glammed-out Clara, keeper of the list) provide comic relief and keep the young audience engaged. Special kudos to Cara Chumbley and Claire Latourette's Glimmer and Shimmer, who take us through a series of preshow exercises and games to get the holiday spirit and audience engagement revved up.  v

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