For anyone who was able to persuade her parents to drop $150 on an American Girl starter kit -- or for those who enviously played with their friends' dolls and borrowed the paperbacks from the library, there is more merriment brewing in the land of American Girlhood.
In a story we missed last week, the Los Angeles Times reported on a musical tribute to "the spirit of American girlhood yesterday and today" at American Girl Place, the megastore for American Girl dolls in L.A. As the Times points out, "Stage versions of popular children's franchises have long been a marketing tool, one raised to delirious heights by Disney's Broadway blockbusters. Barbie does it, the Blues Clues pup does it, even Big Bird and Elmo do it. But American Girl Place, the berry-hued mecca of wholesomeness and high-end merchandise so perilous to parental pocketbooks, has taken it to a shrewd, high-concept level." Well it's certainly high-something -- admission is $30 and in order to see the show in its 133-seat state-of-the-art theater you must first make your way to the second floor, passing all sorts of expensive merchandise on the way.
But despite the consumer tie-in, creators Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford "hope that people who come to buy all that stuff will come to the show and that their little girls will be affected by what they see there." To be sure, the musical revue, which includes vignettes from the American Girl stories, deals with some heady stuff. In one dramatic scene, Addy, a former slave girl who has escaped to the North, finds herself shunned by white girls and learns that "the end of slavery doesn't mean the end of racism." For those who haven't kept up, apparently Mattel realized that the label "American" encompasses a diverse group of people -- dolls now include Kaya, a Nez Perce of the 1764 Northwest, and Josefina, of 1824 colonial New Mexico. (In my day there was only that Anglo-Saxon foursome.)
Despite its enthusiastic reception, the show will not be coming to a theater near you anytime soon. According to the Times, "Cryer, Ford and Valerie Tripp, author of many of the original American Girl books, had hoped to tour the revue independently of the stores, but negotiations with the company fell through." Yes, you must go into the store, past the doll hangers selling for $10 a pop, to see the show. But before you cry elitism, a television story of "Samantha: An American Girl Holiday" is in production and "Addy: An American Girl Story" will premiere next April at the Seattle Children's Theatre. And quick, before one of the girls becomes gay or Jewish, go get a library card and keep up with the Joneses.