There’s something magical about children’s theatre. It might be the excitement on the kids’ faces as they wait for a production to start, or it could be the awe in their eyes throughout the show. “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” running through December 30, 2018, at Keegan Theatre in Washington, D.C., plays into that magic in every way possible, creating a whimsical experience that brings joy to children and adults alike.
This particular retelling of “Elves,” written by Kristin Walter, differs slightly than the traditional tale that dates back to 1806. In that story, a poor shoemaker gives away his last pair of shoes to a needy lady, cut out the little scraps of leather he has left, and finds them completed the next morning by—unbeknownst to the shoemaker—hard-working elves who visited overnight.
…it’s clear that Keegan Theatre has created a magnificent program for young theatre enthusiasts.
Instead, in this tale, the shoemaker (played by Jake Null) simply isn’t any good at what he does, much to the dismay of his wife, Fiona (Maggie Leigh Walker), and daughter, Shannon (Emily Dwornik), who have to suffer through wearing the uncomfortable shoes. When Shannon bargains with a peddler (Duane Richards, who plays few other roles, too) to obtain a magic necklace, two unwilling elves (Joe Baker and Debora Crabbe) are pulled from their home in the forest to make the shoes. Unlike in the original tale, the elves don’t have any choice in the matter. While the shoemaker’s family is living large, the elves are paying the physical price of hard work.
There’s not a bad apple in this bunch of performers, but Joe Baker and Deobra Crabbe as Herbie and Zuzu the elves are riotous. Baker is a champion character actor, and the banter between the two of them—not to mention the physical comedy they seem to revel in—is top-notch.
The script offers up the appropriate lessons for children, such as being considerate to others, but there’s a bundle of references to other fairy tales and nursery rhymes that will make an adult (or a well-read youngster) chuckle in recognition. A couple of other technical notes: Both the set and the costumes, by Shannon
“The Elves and the Shoemaker” is a production of Keegan Theatre’s Play-Rah-Ka program, which not only produces live theatre for young audiences but also offers arts education for pre-K to high-schoolers. As a mom of a preschooler, I particularly enjoyed how the cast introduced the production from the stage, giving a quick, kid-friendly primer on what to expect. The cast also frequently engaged with the audience, which makes it extra-entertaining for little ones. These are just two aspects in which it’s clear that Keegan Theatre has created a magnificent program for young theatre enthusiasts.
Running time: 60 minutes; no intermission.
“The Elves and the Shoemaker” runs through December 30, 2018, at Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church Street NW, Washington, D.C. For tickets and more information, visit the Keegan Theatre website.