Circle of Friends: An American Girls Musical, American Girl Place. Theater that empowers girls doesn’t come along very often–and at first glance it’s surprising that such a show would be nestled in the basement of American Girl Place. What could have been an hour-long commercial instead celebrates the depth and complexity of girls’ friendships, as seen by book writer Gretchen Cryer and composer Nancy Ford, a feminist team who had success on and off Broadway in the 1970s.

Unlike their previous American Girl Place show, which focused on the seven fictional characters in the American Girl books, this slick new musical revolves around contemporary girls with a contemporary problem: how to heal hurt feelings when one person feels shut out of a friendship. To find the solution, they reenact scenes from the novels–and learn from wise adults and a how-to book (sold at the store) that there are no easy answers, only hard work and listening. The scenes are not candy coated: when one of the girls loses her mother, she sings, “If I’m laughing, will I forget you?” The local preteen and teenage actors (overwhelmingly white despite a few feints at diversity) play their parts with good cheer, enthusiasm, and charm, connecting immediately with their young, rapt audience. The songs are catchy, the narrative is swift, and the earnest message is imparted without a hint of cliche.