Most kids have favorite foods like pizza, mac n’ cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Actress Farrell Parker’s most cherished menu items as a child were shrimp cocktail and liverwurst. Seriously.
She also would much prefer fancy restaurants like dark steakhouses than child-friendly places like Chuck E. Cheese. So when she saw Adventure Theatre MTC (ATMTC) was putting on the musical, “Fancy Nancy’s Splendiferous Christmas,” she jumped at the chance to step into the lead role’s tres chic shoes.
“I feel like (the character is) not that far from me,” she said. “What Fancy Nancy is letting me do is be as physically free as I want.” While adults typically act more cautiously and carefully, she observed, “Fancy Nancy is not shy about getting attention. She walks around a little bit like the world is her oyster. We (tend to) stop doing that as we get older — not that every (child) is like that, but there is a freedom in that that she has. …(Nancy) sees endless possibilities in things.”
The best-selling book series, written by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, features more than 30 stories and was turned into a Disney Channel show this year. The musical, being performed for the first time at Adventure Theatre, is inspired by the book of the same name focusing on how Nancy’s family, the Clancys, are preparing to celebrate the holidays.
“I think there are actually some really sweet sentimental moments that will appeal to parents alongside the obvious excitement of Nancy’s journey,” Director Stevie Zimmerman said. Nancy’s mom talks about ornaments that are family heirlooms, while Nancy makes an important discovery after purchasing a sophisticated, expensive tree topper.
Without giving away the ending, Zimmerman noted that the lessons learned make the production a meaningful holiday story. “I’m hoping that we are keeping very true to the spirit (of the book). At the heart of (the story), there is a discovery that Nancy makes that Christmas is about a great deal more than buying big and buying fancy and spending money.”
This production is Parker’s second with ATMTC. In last year’s “Frosty the Snowman,” she played the grumpy neighbor Mrs. Armbruster, quite a departure from the joyous, precocious Nancy.
Parker said she enjoys playing a child because moods tend to change quickly. “You can be having a total meltdown in one moment and have an amazing solution a moment later,” she said. “(Nancy’s) also very bold, has a lot of ideas, and it is fun to get to execute them in this hourlong show.”
Zimmerman pointed out that Parker was an interesting choice to play Nancy. Working with the actress previously, Parker portrayed older and tougher characters. “In the audition, she brought so much energy and charm to Nancy. It was really intriguing,” she said. “If you meet (Parker), you would not think of her as being an obvious person to play this imaginative kid. …(But) she’s very playful. She’s happy to improvise in the moment and explore different aspects of Nancy’s personality and bring out some of that cheekiness that is not rude but is part of Nancy finding her own way in the world. Nancy’s really saying, ‘I am different.’ She is not copying anybody.”
Alex De Bard, who played Little Bear in ATMTC’s last production, “Blueberries for Sal,” is playing the role of Nancy’s little sister JoJo. “I am really, really excited to get to see the kids reactions to this piece in comparison to what I just worked on,” she said. “Everyone is going to be in the holiday spirit and it is a great family show. I think everyone is going to love it.”
While JoJo is more tomboyish, she does wants to be like sister. De Bard has an older and a younger sister, so she understands a sibling wanting to be involved in the same things as their older counterpart. “It’s a lot of funny tantrums (in the role),” she said.
Fans of the book series will be excited over the costume choices and set design. Zimmerman noted that Costume Designer Katie Touart has been embellishing the children’s clothes in a way she imagines that Nancy would. “They don’t look like they came off the rack in the store,” she said. “They look like Nancy got hold of stuff and blinged them out.”
The set does not resemble the real Clancy family home. “What I was trying to create was a sense that the world that we are looking at is seen through Nancy’s eyes,” Zimmerman said. “It’s Nancy’s world.”
“Fancy Nancy’s Splendiferous Christmas” is on stage through Jan. 6 at Adventure Theatre MTC, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. For show times and dates and to purchase tickets, $25, visit www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org or call 301-634-2270.