Strange Brouhaha

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Store

The primary reason we went to Chicago this weekend--and don't get me wrong, it was nice to see Wicked and to visit the museum--was to make the modern Hajj For Tweens.

Yes: American Girl Place. If you are the father of a girl, you may be making this pilgrimage sometime. It is sufficiently ubiquitous that, at least around here, if you put the words "daughter," "birthday" and "Chicago" together in certain combinations, people will say "Ah, American Girl Place!" (For example: "We just got back from Chicago. It's my daughter's birthday and..." "American Girl Place?")

For those of you who don't know, American Girl is a hugely successful doll-based enterprise. Each American Girl doll is representative of a particular era in American history--plucky 1850s pioneer girl Kirsten, for example, or plucky Depression girl Kit, or plucky 1764 Nez Perce girl Kaya. (Yeah, they're all plucky, no matter what problems they have to deal with.) Here's a picture of the whole lineup:

I don't want this to turn into an advertisement--they don't need my help--but Mattel (who bought The Pleasant Company and the American Girl brand from Pleasant Rowland in 1998; Wikipedia has a good summary of the history of American Girl) has done a great job with the line, despite the criticisms you'll see in the Wikipedia article.

The store itself is a huge hit. It was right across the street from our hotel, and when I went out on Saturday morning to hit the ATM, there was a line of people down the block waiting to get into the store, with more people joining every minute. (I have a picture, but I forgot to upload it.) This was before the store opened, I hasten to mention.

The wife and Birthday Girl and Nana had reservations for lunch at the American Girl Cafe, with birthday celebration. They did that while my father-in-law and I were at the Field Museum. Later, though, we all headed over to the store for a show.

Now, normally, a jam-packed store is my vision of hell, but somehow it wasn't all that bad. There were all these calm, well-behaved girls walking around with their dolls, looking at things like this horse and carriage...

...and these REALLY nice coats.

We thought we had five tickets, but it turned out that there were only three--so I got to enjoy the American Girl revue. And I'm not being sarcastic, either. I originally thought that I was going to have to endure it, but it turned out to be a quite a good show. It told the stories of all of the dolls through the framing device of a neighborhood meeting of an American Girl Club whose members have to Explain Things to The New Girl In Town.

The writing was on the level a person would expect from American Girl, which is to say that despite the pretty heavy moralizing, it was very effective. The music was good, too, and while the voice quality varied (but come on, the girls were what, twelve?) the performers were strong. In its way, it was just as engaging as Wicked was...and it had the same sound problem that Wicked did, to boot! Fortunately, the theater was a small space, and we were right up front, so we could hear everything regardless of whose mic was turned on and whose wasn't.

The highlight of the show was the Miss Victory dance, where the actress who was explaining the story of Molly (plucky WWII-era girl on The Home Front) did an amazing tap routine with the actress playing her sister. Wow.

When we all stood and sang the American Girl Anthem at the end of the show, I think I pissed off one of the adult actors. Like I said, we were up in the front row, so when all the actors came forward, we were right next to them. At the end of the song, there was a pretty obvious place where an enterprising guy with a deep-ish voice could take a nice low harmony line. So I did. Loud. Not on purpose or to be a jerk or anything, but it was me against a theater full of women and girls plus a dozen people with microphones. The actress in front of me started singing louder. Oops.

All in all, I have to say that the store was a great experience. I'm a sucker for anything in miniature, and dolls are no exception. (On our honeymoon, we went, on purpose, to a doll museum.) I took a ton of pictures of all of the American Girl dolls--more than I took anywhere else. I was a little scared that I'd step on a girl or something, but I ended up not hurting anyone. There are worse things to do with your time.

I'll leave you with a cute picture from the display window outside the store. Sorry to be so precious, but when I saw this picture, I knew it had to be last. Say goodnight, Molly and Elizabeth.


  • Yeah, AGP pretty much answers the age-old Freudian question ("What do women want"). We want THIS! A multi-level heaven of dolls with pretty clothes, where you can eat, get your picture taken with your doll, get your doll's hair done, and see a show. All the moms I saw were just as entranced, if not more so, than the girls. This would have to be the one arena where living vicariously through your daughter is okay. (And that is the only way to explain how much money we were all spending. Believe me, a mom would not be laying down that kind of coin if there were not a strong element of wish fulfillment in it for herself. Others have speculated that moms buy these things for their daughters to try to stave off the tawdry world of Bratz and My Scene and growing up too fast. Forget it! They buy these things for their daughters because that means they get to have them too!)

    AGP is an amusement park for people who don't like amusement parks: indoor, quieter (even when packed to the gills), and with a gracious "The 12:30 lunch seating will now begin" air. Plus, the cast members came out after the show to sign programs for the little girls, and they were notably gracious and nice.

    A good time was had by all.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:35 AM  

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