Repertory Philippines is back on stage—virtually—with “The Great Christmas Cookie Bake-Off,” its first new musical production since the pandemic closed theaters in early 2020.[READ: If you love cookies and musicals, check out REP’s upcoming Christmas show]
Off the bat, the musical shows that Rep’s Theater for Young Audiences (RTYA) has definitely not lost its touch despite being away from the stage for more than a year. It was able to adapt to the online platform well, capably optimizing the material for the screen, but still making use of all the elements of “traditional” theater that we love—props to the eye-catching costume and set design, by Bonsai Cielo and Ed Lacson, Jr., that are sure to keep children engaged and have their eyes on the screen/stage.
Its bright visuals aside, the musical also makes for great artistic inspiration, be it in the field of the performing arts—thanks to the impeccable performances of the cast—or in the kitchen. The interesting flavor combinations of the characters’ cookies definitely piqued my—an adult’s—curiosity, and for more dessert-loving kids, I’m sure the effect would be double.
(I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking of recreating that peppermint marshmallow hot chocolate cookie.)
Choosing a story with visibly stark characters gives children a great opportunity to connect with and find themselves in any one of them—be it the perfectionist Anna, the social media-savvy Samantha, nerdy Josh, Disney stan Amy, culinary whiz Julian, insecure hobbyist Javi, lola’s girl Patty, and maybe even in the rich bully Gabe.
Moving the story along are also some equally entertaining adult characters in the form of the characters’ parents, the contest judges, and the host. Noteworthy among them is Carla Guevara-Laforteza’s portrayal of Isabel Guevara, celebrity chef and judge, as well as Patty’s lovable grandma, and Anna’s helicopter mom.
It’s a timely story, not only because it’s literally set in Christmastime, but because it also tackles several values that are important for children growing in this unprecedented period. At a time where interactions have been limited, the cast of “The Great Christmas Cookie Bake-Off” shows what it is like to connect with people—children—you meet for the first time. There are soft, small moments of tenderness and kindness among different characters that I think should provide great examples to look back on, especially as the world slowly opens up.
But what I really like about “The Great Christmas Cookie Bake-Off” is that although it’s primarily geared for young audiences, there are a number of things that even we adults can learn from. Foremost for me is that impostor syndrome is real, whether you’re a child or an adult. But sometimes all it really takes is for someone to see the good in what you do to give you that push and the much-needed confidence to continue. That’s what the contest and the judges did for Javi. And that’s definitely something we adults need to remember when we see potential in those younger than us.
The musical also demonstrated how fickle memories could be, and how often the things we remember are already tinted in rose. This is what Patty’s story arc showed. Holding memories dear and close is good, and can be a great driving force for what we do, but it’s important to stay grounded in what’s real, what’s present, and to strive to do what is your best right now (without getting too caught up in “what was good back then”).
A great theme across many artistic works for young audiences is how it takes great courage to stand up for what’s right, especially if, as in the case of this musical, the forces that are putting you on the “wrong path” are actually your parents. I think this particular story arc also serves as a good reminder for adults: The way we think the world works probably isn’t the best for how children’s worlds work. How we think and how we act, whether we’re parents or just older friends, definitely influence those younger than us, so we have to be careful. But at the same time, there’s also value in letting children explore and be free. Sometimes, letting children experience things themselves will surprise us with how much wiser they actually are.
The musical also sprinkled in a few twists that I think they could’ve done without. The attempt at localizing the story, by changing some of the characters’ names to more Filipino-sounding ones, as well as changing their origins (Patty from Pampanga, Gabe from Malate, Javi from Cebu, for example), are half-baked, only because other details in the musical remain American.
Ultimately though, REP’s “The Great Christmas Cookie Bake-Off” is a magical holiday treat. Enjoyable music, eye-catching visuals, and a simple but engaging story make it a show you and your young loved ones shouldn’t miss.