NY Times Review: A Review of ‘Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical’

N.Y. / REGION | THEATER | LONG ISLAND
By AILEEN JACOBSONNOV. 27, 2015

When the show now known as “Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical” had its Broadway premiere in 1963, it was called “Here’s Love,” and received reviews that varied wildly, including a rather dismissive one from The New York Times (“right off the assembly line, shrewdly engineered,” the critic Howard Taubman wrote).

 

The mixed reviews are understandable, because this musical by Meredith Willson — who also wrote “The Music Man,” a splendid work — is itself a combination of delightful moments and dull ones. It is full of scenes and songs that don’t quite mesh, contributing to abrupt mood swings throughout the show.

Richard T. Dolce, the producing artistic director at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport and director of this production, has managed, with the help of an engaging cast, to ultimately turn it into an enjoyable mess. Mr. Willson’s adaptation of the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street” is far livelier and filled with more surprises than a different version, by Douglas M. Smith and Vernon L. Stefanic, presented by the Engeman in 2009 (though that one had a talented cast, too).

Photo

Aaron Ramey, as Fred, with Sophia Eleni Kekllas, who also plays Susan. Credit Michael DeCristofaro
The story — by Valentine Davies, who won an Academy Award for it — focuses on a man who goes by the name Kris Kringle and claims to be Santa Claus, and his interactions with a girl named Susan Walker and her mother, Doris, who works for Macy’s and hires the kindly Kris as the store’s Santa. Also in the mix is Fred Gaily, who befriends Susan and woos Doris while sparring with her over her hard-edge view of the world, inspired by a bitter divorce.

The musical veers from the children’s-show exuberance of the opening number, “Big Ca-lown Balloons,” during which Kris and a gaggle of youngsters march into the audience, to the seriousness of “You Don’t Know,” an adult ballad about disappointment that shifts the musical’s tone radically when Doris sings it in Scene 2. By Scene 3, the show has returned to the jolly family-musical category, with an ensemble of clerks singing about the virtues of plastic alligators.

Echoes of “The Music Man” can be heard in that opening tune, which recalls the marching beat of “76 Trombones.” Mr. Willson used other devices employed in “The Music Man” here too, including quick patter and multiple-part harmonies. These touches serve the show well, as does the small band under the musical direction of David Caldwell. Many of the songs are pleasing, including the metronome-like “My Wish,” a duet by Fred and Susan as the girl sits on a swing. (What a grown man is doing in a playground with a little girl, without her mother’s knowledge, is not an issue in this musical, set in a presumably-more-innocent 1963.)

Sophia and Kim Carson, as Doris. Credit Michael DeCristofaro
“Pinecones and Holly Berries” is a jaunty tune that is interwoven with “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” which Mr. Willson wrote in 1951 but included here. A couple of silly songs that could easily seem hokey — “That Man Over There,” referring to Kringle, and “My State, My Kansas,” an attempt to butter up a judge from that state — are unexpectedly appealing.

 

The judge figures into the second act, which, as fans of the film are likely to surmise, centers on the trial at which Fred tries to keep Kris out of Bellevue Hospital by proving that he is indeed the real Santa Claus.

The set by Stephen Dobay, lit by Jimmy Lawlor, is cleverly versatile, and Kathleen Doyle’s costume designs add cheer.

The production is fortunate to have Kim Carson, who has a fine voice and a gentle but strong manner, playing Doris. Ms. Carson has appeared in similar feisty-romantic roles at the Engeman, including Marian in “The Music Man.” Meaghan Marie McInnes (who alternates with Sophia Eleni Kekllas) is a winning Susan: sweet, unaffected and a good singer. Kevin McGuire, as Kris, is another convincing actor and good singer, as is Aaron Ramey as Fred.

Helping to make the show twinkle are some quirky actors in secondary roles, notably Matt Wolpe as Marvin Shellhammer, the nervous head of the Macy’s toy department, and Bill Nolte as a blustery R. H. Macy, a character almost as mythical as Santa, since the real Mr. Macy died in 1877.

“Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical,” with book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson, based on the 1947 movie, is running through Jan. 3 at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main Street. Information: 631-261-2900 or engemantheater.com.

A version of this article appears in print on November 29, 2015, on page LI9 of the New York edition with the headline: Believing in Santa, and Singing About It. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

 

The Village Tattler Review: The Joyous Miracle On 34th Street, The Musical At Engeman Theater

Kevin McGuire as Kris Kringle in Miracle On 34th Street at The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

The holiday classic we all know and love, Miracle On 34th Street, is brought to the stage at The John W. Engeman Theater this holiday season, running through January 3, 2016. Picture everything you enjoyed about the movie—the spreading of love and joy in New York City during the holidays, the New York Supreme Court case proving that Santa Claus is not a myth, the happiness that a single mom and her daughter find when they start having faith again—and then, add the magic of a book with music and lyrics by Meredith Willson of Music Man fame. Story and screen play are by Valentine Davies.

Produced and directed by Richard T. Dolce, Engeman Theater’s Producing Artistic Director, Miracle on 34th Street soars, uplifting our hearts and filling them with hope and happiness. With Antoinette DiPietropolo’s magical touch as choreographer, each scene comes to life. DiPietropolo’s credits include Engeman Theater: The Producers, A Christmas Story – The Musical, Evita!, The Music Man, South Pacific, Hairspray, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change, and Nunsense; Off Broadway: With Glee; Regional: Annie, Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago, Ragtime; National Tour: How The Grinch Stole Christmas; and Associate Director/Choreographer for The Big Apple Circus

The incredible cast includes Kim Carson as Doris Walker, who returns to Engeman after performing in The Music Man, South Pacific, and Camelot,and Broadway veterans Aaron Ramey as Fred Gaily, Kevin McGuire as Kris Kringle, and Bill Nolte as R.H. Macy.

McGuire, who has performed on Broadway and in both National and International Tours of Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, The Secret Garden, and Jane Eyre, plays a convincing Santa Claus with just the right “wink of his eye, twinkle of his toes, and the Joy.”

The fabulous children’s ensemble are notable and equally convincing in musical numbers such as “That Man Over There,” in which they insist “that man over there is Santa Claus, I know, I know, I know.” Also, engaging and delightful is the scene when the children become the toys in Macy’s Toy Department. The Red Cast of kids who appeared on opening night are Miranda Jo DeMott, Katie Dolce, Erin Haggerty, Meaghan Maher, Shane McGlone, Christopher McKenna, Jr., Theron Viljoen, and Chloe Wheeler.

DeMott, Dolce, Haggerty, Maher, McGlone, Viljoen, and Wheeler all return to the Engeman stage after appearing in previous MainStage musicals (DeMott in South Pacific; Dolce in White Christmas, Music Man, and A Christmas Story; Maher inMusic Man, A Christmas Carol, and A Christmas Story; and Haggerty, McGlone, Viljoen and Wheeler in A Christmas Story). The red cast of kids all give fantastic performances–dancing, singing, and spreading holiday joy as seen through the eyes of the young. Their excitement is infectious in every scene they are in, including the lively opening number, “Big Ca-lown Balloons,” taking place outside of Macy’s Department Store on 34th Street on Thanksgiving morning.

New to Mainstage at Engeman are the two lovely young actresses who play Susan Walker: Meaghan Marie McInnes and Sophia Eleni Kekllass.

Kevin McGuire (Kris Kringle) and Meaghan Marie McInnes as Susan Walker. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

McInnes plays opening night’s Susan and is most charming—an adorable, precocious and talented young actress who is sure to be seen in future stage productions. She is magnetic, capturing the audience in every scene in which she appears. In Scene 2 of Act 1, McInnes sings “Arm in Arm” with the amazingly talented Carson, who plays Susan’s mom Doris.

Miracle is warm, engaging, and lively, with big musical ensemble numbers such as “Big Ca-lown Balloons,” “Here’s Love,” and “That Man Over There.” And this show is also funny. The comedic timing of “Plastic Alligators,” is perfect and well-choreographed by DiPietropolo, and Matt Wolpe is amazing and hilarious as Shellhammer, along with the adult ensemble.

Wolpe has appeared in the National Tour of Once and Off Broadway in Hells Bells. His Regional theater credits include: Weston Playhouse, Kirk Douglas Theatre, Laguna Playhouse, Sacramento Music Circus, Ensemble Theatre of Santa Barbara, Pasadena Playhouse, NoHo Arts Center, Blank Theatre, Boston Theatre Work and La Miranda.

Miracle has it all. In addition to all its holiday joy as “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas,” there are also the themes of divorce and finding love again, not believing in anything anymore and then, finding faith and belief again. Carson and Ramey (who plays Gaily) have an amazing stage chemistry, in a tango of dislike and like that turns to love. “He’s always right, I’m always wrong…and then we were kissing just like it was the last kiss on earth,” sings Carson.

Ramey’s voice is warm and rich. His acting is impressive; he has a great chemistry with the audience and with McInnes as well in “My Wish,” which takes place on a swing in a Central Park playground. His credits include Engeman Theater’s White Christmas, and Broadway in The Visit, The Bridges of Madison County, Jekyll & Hyde, Young Frankenstein, Curtains, and Thoroughly Modern Millie. Ramey has also appeared in the National Tours of South Pacific, Jekyll & Hyde, Sweet Charity, and Disney’s Beauty & the Beast. 

Also fun and so enjoyable to watch, is “She Hadda Go Back,” in Act 2, with Ramey and some of the adult male ensemble who play his friends. The song is very reminiscent of The Music Man.

Nolte is unforgettable as R.H. Macy, the owner of Macy’s department store, “the largest department store in New York City.” His acting chops are on display throughout. Nolte has performed on Broadway in The Producers, La Cage Aux Faux, Cats, and more. His regional credits include Hello Dolly, The Drowsy Chaperone, My Fair Lady, Damn Yankees, Fiddler and Most Happy Fella.

The cast also includes Todd Thurston, who is fantastic as Judge Martin Group and whose credits include Broadway in Ragtime; Tours: La Cage, Little House on the Prairie, and Les Miserables; and Regional: Long Warf, Goodspeed, Barrington, St. Louis Rep, Asolo, Berkshire, Pioneer and Wichita.

John Little plays Dr. Sawyer; he is hilarious in the scenes with Kris Kringle. Little returns to the Engeman after acting in  Little Women, Run for Your Wife and My Fair Lady. Off Broadway credits are Poetic License, Hamlet and Taming of the Shrew; Regional: The Grapes of Wrath, Amadeus, Glimmerglass, Major Barbara and My Fair Lady; and TV: Boardwalk Empire and Law & Order.

The adult ensemble is: NICK ADDEO, PIM VAN AMERONGEN, SAM ARLEN, MARK T. CAHILL, DARIA DEGAETANO, COURTNEY FEKETE, SOPHIA ELENI KEKLLAS, SUZANNE MASON, MARYELLEN MOLFELLA, MEAGHAN MARIE MCINNES, LAURA OTREMBA, MICHAEL SANTORA and SUMMERISA BELL STEVENS.

The children’s ensemble alternates with red and green casts. The red cast is MIRANDA JO DEMOTT, KATIE DOLCE, ERIN HAGGERTY, MEAGHAN MAHER, SHANE MCGLONE, CHRISTOPHER MCKENNA, THERON VILJOEN, and CHLOE WHEELER. The green cast is AMBER CORRIGAN, SOPHIA GUARNASCHELLI, KATHERINE LAFOUNTAIN, CLAIRE LEVASSEUR, MICHAEL MENESHIAN, CHRISTOPHER PAPPAS, AIDAN PASSARO, and MEGAN TRAGESAR.

Musical Director is DAVID CALDWELL (Off-Broadway Music Director: Forbidden Broadway, Murder for Two. Off Broadway Composer: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Uh-Oh Here Comes Christmas,Third Wish, Gotta Getta Girl. Conductor: American premiere of Stephen Schwartz’s Children of Eden. Arranged and orchestrated Marvin Hamlisch’s song “I’m Really Dancing” forCareer Transitions for Dancers’ 25th Anniversary Gala.

The Design Team is STEPHEN DOBAY (Scenic Design), KATHLEEN DOYLE (Costume Design), JIMMY LAWLOR (Lighting Design), LAURA SHUBERT (Sound Design), KAYE BLANKENSHIP (Props Design), FRANCK CASTING (Casting Director), RENEE SANTOS STEWART (Production Stage Manager), and MEGAN COUTTS (Assistant Stage Manager).

Miracle on 34th Street is not to be missed this holiday season. The performance schedule is Thursdays at 8:00pm, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00 with some Wednesday (8:00pm) and Sunday evenings (7:00pm) available. Tickets are $74 on Saturday evenings, $69 all other performances and may be purchased by calling (631) 261-2900, going online atEngemanTheater.com, or by visiting the Engeman Theater Box Office at 250 Main Street, Northport.

 

Smithtown Matters Review: Theater Review – “Miracle On 34th Street”

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2015 AT 7:20PM

THEATER REVIEW – Miracle on 34th Street – Produced by: John W Engeman Theater, Northport – Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

Chalk up another smash hit for The Engeman!

Meaghan McIinnis as Susan Walker & Kevin McGuire as Kris Kringle ( photo by Michael DeCristofaro)The famed equity company’s new holiday offering is the musical, “Miracle on 34th Street,” based on the 1947 non-musical film of the same name. The movie, of course, famously starred Academy Award winner Edmund Gwenn, and has become a classic in its own right.

“Miracle…” tells of a skeptical little girl who claims to doubt the existence of Santa Claus. And when the actual Kris Kringle is inadvertently hired as Santa at Macy’s…where the child’s divorced mother works as the store’s publicist…Kris has to convince the girl, Susan, and her jaded mother, Doris (initially a cynic if ever there was one) that he’s the real deal.

There are amusing plot turns along the way…the most believable of which is a love interest that might choke-up even the most prosaic among us…and the grownups in this feel-good story comprise an exceptionally talented group of singers. Northport newcomer Kevin McGuire (Kris Kringle), lovely Engeman veteran Kim Carson (Doris Walker), the irrepressible Aaron Ramey (Fred Gaily), and Broadway standout Bill Nolte (R. H. Macy) lead a superlative cast of adult songsters. And Matt Wolpe (as the madcap Marvin Shellhammer) is a delightful stumblebum whom we know is destined to say and do all the wrong things…at precisely the wrong times.

Essentially, though, this is a children’s story told at a magical time of year for kids, predominantly in that most wondrous place imaginable for boys and girls at Christmas…Macy’s toy department! Accordingly, it’s appropriate that the youngsters in the cast soon take control of the proceedings (there are two alternating companies of children, of course). The group I saw at The Engeman’s November 21st Press Opening was led by Meaghan Marie McInnes. Four-foot-tall Meaghan is a young, disarmingly precocious actress, and she filled the starring role of pre-schooler Susan Walker adorably.

Right behind her was a young lady whose stage presence impresses me more every time I see her. She’s a veteran hoofer (even at a still-tender age) and former ‘Encore Award’ winner for excellence in Theater Arts…Katie Dolce. Katie has easily lived up to the promise she displayed with her top hat and cane a few years ago in “White Christmas,” when little more than a toddler.

There’s another up-and-comer we should all watch for, too. Unless I miss my guess, Christopher McKenna, Jr. is destined for stardom. The boy can’t be much older than ten or eleven, nevertheless he seems born to the stage. Rather than fear his audience, little Christopher obviously thrives on their adulation…and it’s doubtful he’ll ever forget their erupting in spontaneous applause at one point during his brief performance Saturday night.

Which brings this reviewer to a final point: Sometimes an audience helps professional critics form judgments as surely as do the performers themselves. That was the case during opening night of “Miracle on 34th Street.” All evening long patrons at Northport’s comfortable Engeman Theater seemed to break into applause at the drop of a hat. They applauded following every song…after every exit…and at the conclusion of every dance routine. The full-house of attendees laughed heartily when each joke or otherwise humorous observation was delivered…and at the final curtain they stood and cheered in unison.

I challenge any critic to submit a less-than-glowing review in the wake of such a reception.

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Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of eleven novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His newest book, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s website is www.JebsBooks.com

 

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