Citadel to present 'Eleanor's Very Merry Christmas Wish'

Denise McGowan Tracy thought that with all the family holiday tales that play on our stages and screens each year, there was room for a new holiday story that speaks more specifically to today's families.

After observing a young girl some years ago giving some very specific demands to the Santa at Navy Pier, where McGowan Tracy was entertainment director, she began to feel sorry for the toys who would be given to this girl.

That led her to think about creating a story from the point of view of a toy. She first developed her idea as a children's book, "Eleanor's Very Merry Christmas Wish," about a rag doll who has lived with Santa and the elves at the North Pole for years because no one has written Santa to ask for one.

McGowan Tracy later adapted her story into a stage musical, which premiered at Chicago's Greenhouse Theatre Center in 2019, and will be performed at Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest Dec. 20-31. This will be only the second Chicago-area production of the musical since its 2019 premiere.

"In a world where American Girl dolls cost over $100, is there a place for a simple rag doll?" McGowan Tracy said. "And what would it be like to be a toy that's different and has to stay behind at the North Pole because no one asks Santa for a rag doll anymore?"

In this story, the rag doll, Eleanor, finds love and acceptance among Santa, Mrs. Claus, their daughter Clara, and the elves - a found family much like today's blended families.

McGowan Tracy said, "Friends who have been foster parents and have seen the show have said to me, 'I don't know how you put our family on stage.'"

Though Eleanor loves her "found family" among the elves and the Clauses, she still wants to be paired with a girl who will be her very own best friend. But Clara explains to her that wishing isn't enough, you also need to take action to get your wish. This sparks Eleanor to write her own letter to Santa to ask for a home and family of her own.

With Santa's help, and a good deal of patience, Eleanor finally gets her wish and has to say goodbye to her found family so that she can become the best friend to a lonely 6-year-old girl in Chicago. In leaving her beloved North Pole family, Eleanor learns another valuable lesson: that sometimes you have to give up something to get something better.

This 65-minute musical includes eight songs written by Kathleen Butler-Duplessis and McGowan Tracy. The score includes lively numbers that show the audience the good times of daily life at the North Pole, comedy numbers for the elves, a ballad called "Dear Santa," in which Eleanor and a girl who wants a rag doll sing their letters to Santa, and the uplifting anthem "Make Your Wish."

"Eleanor's Very Merry Christmas Wish" will be directed by Gregg Dennhardt, who has previously at Citadel directed the company's Theatre for Young Adults productions of "Junie B. Jones," "Winnie the Pooh" (twice) and "Junior Claus."

His cast includes Ashley Veltman (Mrs. Cookie Claus), Mia Abraham (Sparkle), Bob Sanders (Santa Claus), Nico Caputo (Sprinkle), Elizabeth Bushell (Eleanor), Kylie Sullivan (Twinkle), Chloe Bassett (Clara Claus), Asha Dale Hopman (Noelle) and Angelica Joy Tryger (Holly).

"Eleanor's Very Merry Christmas Wish" is recommended for ages 4 and older. Performances, which include daytime matinees and early evening shows, are 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 20-21; 3 and 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 22, and Tuesday through Friday, Dec. 26-29; and 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturdays, Dec. 23 and 30, and Sunday, Dec. 31.

Tickets are $20 and available at or by calling (847) 735-8554, ext. 1.

Citadel Theatre is in the West Campus building of the Lake Forest School District, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest.

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