'The Match Girl's Gift' offers a new holiday experience

A new entry to the crowded holiday theater scene is a piece adapted from another famed 19th-century Christmas tale.

The Match Girl's Gift, now playing at the Centennial Showboat theater in St. Paul, features a script by Laurie Brooks and a cast of three youth and three adult performers.

Part of what makes Hans Christian Anderson's story enduring is the central image of a young, poor girl freezing to death right outside of a warm home where a family is celebrating an opulent Christmas. While that image has been toned down (no freezing here), the core message remains just as powerful, says director Kristin Kenning.

For the cast and creators, the Showboat's stage offered some unique challenges.

"We were very lucky to get to rehearse in the space so that we could be in the world of the Showboat immediately. The set was completed before rehearsals started, so the actors really were able to immerse themselves," Kenning says.

The stage and backstage areas each pose their own challenges. The small proscenium features a very modest apron, while there is a limited amount of fly and wing space. Most of the set is made up of roll drops that are positioned by hand.

"Our scenic painter, David Potter, did a fantastic job of creating warmth and depth in the drops," Kenning adds. "We all paid attention to not having the scenery or staging have a flat look. Our lighting designer, Sue Ellen Berger, also did a fantastic job creating contrast between a freezing street and a warm dining room."

The production opened over Thanksgiving and will run until the New Year. Along with the show, the evening includes live caroling before, and two-for-one drink specials.

"The audience reaction has been fantastic. Many adults who have seen the play have mentioned that they are going to bring their children or nephews and nieces back over the Christmas holiday. I think the draw is the combination of the magical location of the Showboat, the magic inherent in the play, and the high quality of the talent onstage," Kenning says.

The Match Girl's Gift runs through January 2

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