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Good, love prevail in 'Babes in Toyland'

The large cast for "Babes in Toyland" includes the Piper Kids. The Phoenix Theatre opens the show at 7 p.m. Thursday Dec. 6 at the Sheldon Theatre.

If dancing Christmas trees aren't enough to get you in the holiday spirit, consider the themes embedded in "Babes in Toyland: The Musical" -- Good always triumphs over evil; love will prevail.

"Babes" is Phoenix Theatre's annual holiday musical. It opens Thursday and runs through Sunday -- one weekend only -- at the Sheldon Theatre.

The show may not deliver a typical Christmas message, director Jerry Lacroix said, but it's pretty much guaranteed to get people in the holiday spirit.

"It's an uplifting show," he explained, and is set during the Christmas season in a place known as Toyland.

The second act opens with the song "Hail to Christmas," he pointed out -- and those dancing Yule trees.

"Babes in Toyland" is filled with familiar Mother Goose characters; many of them are portrayed by actors who have been playing to local audiences for years.

Alec Pflueger and Chelsea Indrehus appear as a pair of orphans whose nasty Uncle Barnaby (played by Mark Sandstrom) arranges for them to be shipwrecked so he can steal their fortune. As luck would have it, they are rescued by gypsies.

But when they return to Alan's sweetheart, Mary Contrary (Susan Kinyon), she has run away with her brother, Tom-Tom the Piper's son (Jesse Stewart) because she has learned that Uncle Barnaby wants to marry her.

Alan and Chelsea, Mary and Tom-Tom meet up in Toyland, where Uncle Barnaby is plotting evil deeds with the evil Master Toymaker (Steve Jorstad).

As Lacroix promises, good triumphs and love prevails -- after a lot of singing and dancing, fighting the good fight and meting out justice in a not-too-scary fashion.

Another 20 actors appear in supporting roles, plus the Sheldon stage will be filled most of the night with toy soldiers, living toys, and an assortment of singers including a youth choir.

The toy soldiers will be among groups taking the spotlight for a number, with a lot of help from Shoreline Dance Studio.

Months ago, Shoreline co-owner Beth Bettich said theater officials contacted them to see if they had dancers who could play the soldiers.

Ultimately, Shoreline not only supplied dancers, but also two high school choreographers -- Lynden Bettich and Elle Mark -- who created the soldiers' dance and have been working since October to prepare them for the stage.

The soldiers, who will wear old Red Wing High School marching band uniforms, are Ella Bettich, Madisyn Ryan, Hailee Jones, Shana McClelland, Rylie Jones, Gracie Bettich, Libertie Ryan, Bryce Hammerschmidt, Ella Sutherland, Caitlyn Faust and Anna Pritchard. Most of the 10- to 13-year-olds study at Shoreline.

In total, the cast numbers almost 80 men, women, teenagers and children. Fitting them all on the Sheldon stage and making everything work smoothly has been no simple task, Lacroix acknowledged.

"It's a matter of organization," he said. Although the audience won't be aware of it, great attention has been paid to planning exits and entrances "so people don't run into each other off stage."

Add in costume changes, Lacroix said, and "There's lots going on backstage."

Sean Dowse, the Sheldon's executive director, has taken on an unusual backstage responsibility for "Babes" -- makeup. He was trained in doing makeup as a young actor before coming to Red Wing.

While it's important in any show, makeup plays a big role in Toyland. Knowing the challenge, he said, "I thought I'd pitch in and help."

"We have toys with special makeup needs," Dowse said. "It's been fun to figure out the faces for the toy people," and come up with a way to transform characters such as the Widow Piper (Sara McCormack Hoffman), who goes from thin to fat.

Because of the large cast and wide range in ages of actors, both costuming and makeup will be done in shifts.

"We're setting up makeup stations downstairs," Dowse said. Before opening night, actors and members of the makeup crew all will get some training.

The musical has a solid corps of workers who will never be seen by the audience. Among them are orchestra director Bill Foot, vocal director Dawn Conroy-Pretto, choreographer Tamara O'Brien, and costumers Karen Boek and Dace Miller.

Performances will be at 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are available now at the Sheldon at $22.50 for adults, $14.50 for students.

If you go...

Who: Phoenix Theatre

What: "Babes in Toyland: The Musical"

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 6, 7, 8; 2 p.m. Dec. 9

Where: Sheldon Theatre, 443 W. Third St.

Cost: $22.50 adults, $14.50 students

More info: 651-388-8700 or 8990899-5759, or