REVIEW: Celestial Stars Performing Arts' "The Christmas Angel" by Melissa Swick Ellington

The Christmas Angel If you are seeking a fresh and innovative holiday arts experience, you won’t want to miss The Christmas Angel by Celestial Stars Performing Arts at Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College this weekend. Written and choreographed by artistic director and performer Gabrielle Celeste, The Christmas Angel debuted in December 2001 and is now in its fifteenth year of production. The originality of the story, combined with the quality of dance, create a uniquely gratifying performance.

Celestial Stars Performing Arts is based in West Columbia, where Celeste leads a training program that includes ballet as well as other forms of dance. (Disclaimer: Although my young daughter attends class at the ballet school, we are not directly involved with this production.) While The Christmas Angel engages even the youngest of dance students in the cast, the production value is noteworthy. Theatrical elements such as costumes, scenic design, lighting, and sound are crafted with high standards. At the final dress rehearsal I attended, pride and poise radiated throughout this inspiring production.

The story explores the redemptive journey of the Christmas Angel, who reveals how purity of love and power of forgiveness can transform even the darkest of hearts. As the ballet opens, Father Frost brings the Christmas Angel and magical toys together in Christmas Land, where they celebrate Christmas Eve and look forward to the excitement of Christmas Day. When the Christmas Angel is kidnapped by the Goblin Queen, the brave toys set out on a dangerous mission to rescue their beloved friend. The Christmas Angel’s ability to see the Goblin Queen’s true identity – a banished princess, sister of the Fairy Queen – leads to change and reunion on Christmas Day.

The large company of forty-seven cast members performs with strength and conviction. Nora Mader shines in a lovely heartfelt portrayal of the Christmas Angel. Celeste creates a powerful and mesmerizing Goblin Queen whose vulnerable transformation is truly moving. In the roles of Father Frost and Fairy King, Blade Boulware establishes an appealing stage presence and admirable partnering skills, accompanied by the charming Nyna Dalbec as the Fairy Queen.  Jane Mader delivers a beautiful interpretation of the Bird of Paradise. Two delightful French Dolls (Katie McHugh and Anna Grace Powell) cavort with a crowd-pleasing Jester (Devin McCormick) in particularly exceptional dances. Perhaps the most remarkable accomplishment of The Christmas Angel is the palpable joy that pervades this entire production as each performer from the sassy Black Poodle (Grayson Smythe) to the tiniest of Pixies conveys capable confidence.

Director and choreographer Celeste guides a strong production team, with additional choreography by Debbie Spivey and coaching by Dalbec, Spivey, and Gene Reed. Reed also provides effective set design and construction; the visual transitions into three distinctly different worlds uphold the story line while offering exciting spectacle. Celeste’s costume designs are first-class, from the playful reindeer to the menacing Wraiths to the exquisite Silver Moon and Golden Sun. The production elements and choreography unify in striking tonal shifts, leading the viewer through the light-hearted joyous Christmas Land into the genuinely frightening dark world of the Goblin Queen, yet ultimately rejoicing in the fairies’ celebration of redemption. The impressive Wraiths and Imps succeed with fascinating rhythmic sequences that emphasize the peril of the Goblin Queen’s world, while airy Woodland Nymphs and Butterflies lift the mood into the jubilant fairy realm.

The Christmas Angel demonstrates how a community arts organization can achieve professional performance quality while nurturing a strong educational program. In this fifteenth year of The Christmas Angel, Celeste and her company have created and evolved an original Christmas tradition for our community. Their achievement reflects how performers collaborating in educational settings can make true works of art. Audiences will leave the theatre hoping to treasure this living gem for many years to come.

Performances of The Christmas Angel will take place Friday, December 18 and Saturday, December 19 at 7:00 pm at Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College, 7300 College Street in Irmo, SC. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for children under 12 and seniors. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit or contact the box office at 803-407-5013.