The little girl is called Noel, and you can tell she’s a doodler from her shoes, decorated with tiny drawings and snatches of words. “Noel the 2nd,” she’s spelled out along one side, and there it is: the wound she’s been carrying through her childhood.
Her parents saddled her with the same name as the beloved daughter they lost one Christmastime, shortly before this Noel was born. For the eight years since, there’s been no celebration of that holiday in their house. This, you can be sure, is about to change.
The Classical Theater of Harlem’s new Christmas musical, “The First Noel,” means to tug at the heartstrings, and it does — but thanks to the musical performances, not the formulaic story. Presented in collaboration with the Apollo Theater and staged in an upstairs space there, this good-looking, high-energy show is packed with vocal talent and propelled by a terrific five-piece band.
With book, music and lyrics by Lelund Durond Thompson and Jason Michael Webb, it’s a memory play with music: pop, gospel and holiday. The frame is a present-day visit by the adult Noel (Ashley Ware Jenkins), who’s come from Atlanta at Christmastime to sell the family’s home in Harlem, now worth several million dollars.