Newsday Review: ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ review: Holiday fantasy at the Engeman

Updated December 13, 2015 11:52 AM
By Steve Parks steve.parks@newsday.com
WHAT “Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical”
WHEN | WHERE 3 and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. Dec. 2, 2 p.m. Sunday, 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 3, through Jan. 3, John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main St.
TICKETS $69-$74; 631-261-2900, engemantheater.com
It’s not just that Gimbels was still around, competing across Herald Square from Macy’s, that dates “The Miracle on 34th Street.” The Meredith Willson musical based on the 1947 movie of the same title celebrates the holiday season at Northport’s Engeman Theater with a corny fantasy.

Broadway producers, aiming for a miracle that would extend Willson’s 1963 musical far beyond the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas season, misnamed the show “Here’s Love.” (That idea proved to be a turkey: “Here’s Love” closed eight weeks before the next Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.) Even with its mostly forgettable score, “Miracle” survives as a regional theater holiday chestnut.
It’s the story of Kriss Kringle. Yes, Virginia, that’s his real name. Only in this telling, the girl is Susan and her mother Doris, a Macy’s executive, has hired Kriss as the flagship store’s Santa. He causes a stir when he directs parents to the competition when children ask for a toy outside of Macy’s inventory. Recognizing a publicity boon for Macy’s as the department store that cares, Doris champions her new hire. But when, in an interview with the store’s dour psychologist, Kriss insists he really is Santa Claus, he’s committed to Bellevue. A judge who’s up for re-election presides over a hearing to determine Santa’s fate. Kriss’ attorney is a guy who, improbably, lives next door to Susan and her cynical divorcee mom. Will Santa be locked away on Christmas Eve?

Engeman producer Richard Dolce directs “Miracle” with an eye for spectacle, distracting us from the show’s treacly moments. In “Expect Things to Happen,” choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo turns an imaginary birthday party into a scene rivaling elements of Radio City’s “Christmas Spectacular,” embellished by Kathleen Doyle’s fanciful costumes and Stephen Dobay’s period set.

Kim Carson, Marian in Willson’s superior “Music Man” at the Engeman, presents a formidable single mom who’s nevertheless susceptible to a kiss from her neighbor, Fred — Aaron Ramey, whose lead in “She Hadda Go Back” evokes “Ya Got Trouble” in River City. Bill Nolte as R.H. Macy is a bug-eyed delight, while Meaghan Marie McInnes, double-cast with Sophia Eleni Kekllas, steals the show with little-girl irresistibility as Fred’s pathway to her mom. (Today, that might be considered creepy.) Kevin McGuire’s approachable, white-whiskered Kriss Kringle convinces us that “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” as the song, accompanied by David Caldwell’s orchestra, declares.

BWW Review: The Engeman’s MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET

November 25
10:33 AM2015
BWW Review: The Engeman's MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET

The hustle and bustle of the Christmas season is about to get under way and, as always, the John W. Engeman Theatre excellently delivers a fabulous holiday production. This years’ offering, running through January 4th, is the musical Miracle On 34th Street by Meredith Willson based on the classic movie.

The story centers on single mother Doris Walker who doesn’t want Susan, her young daughter, exposed to “fairy tales” like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and, most importantly, Santa.

Indeed, the large Richard T. Dolce directed cast is absolutely stellar.

BWW Review: The Engeman's MIRACLE ON 34TH STREETEngeman favorite Kim Carson splendidly portrays Doris, an executive at Macy’s department store. After her Santa for the parade gets overly intoxicated, she unexpectedly meets Kris Kringle and immediately hires him as her new Santa. Ms. Carson’s confident performance is received well particularly her rendition of “You Don’t Know”. Incidentally, Kevin McGuire(Broadway: Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, et. al.) is a remarkable Kris Kringle. A gentle voice and the whole “Santa aura” make him a natural for the role.At the same time, their – also single – neighbor, former Marine Fred Gailey, portrayed by Aaron Ramey, attempts to court Doris by charming Susan branding himself as a father figure. Susan is enjoying this, but Doris is not amused.

And of course the children in the cast are wonderful and excited to be on stage. They have two casts and the role of Susan is divided up between two adorable young ladies; Sophia Eleni Kekllas and Meaghan Marie McInnes.

Another highlight is the innovative set designed by Stephen Dobay. There are many scene changes in the two act show. Inside the “Macy’s windows” there are also three small sets that move out when needed. This is enhanced beautifully by Jimmy Lawlor‘s lighting and Kathleen Doyle‘s costumes. In the score, you will also notice subtle tones here and there of Mr. Willson’s arguably most famous work The Music Man. “She Hadda Go Back” sounds delightfully similar to “Trouble”.

And so, Miracle On 34th Street is certainly another hit for the Engeman. A wonderful cast and a classic story make for a thrilling night of theatre this holiday season.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Miracle On 34th Street is presented by the John W. Engeman Theatre of Northport, Long Island, through January 4th.

By Meredith Willson, Directed by RICHARD T. DOLCE, Choreography by ANTOINETTE DIPIETROPOLO, Musical Direction by DAVID CALDWELL, Scenic Design by STEPHEN DOBAY, Costume Design by KATHLEEN DOYLE, Lighting Design by JIMMY LAWLOR, Sound Design by LAURA SHUBERT, Props Design by KAYE BLANKENSHIP, Casting by FRANCK CASTING, Stage Management by RENEE SANTOS STEWART

Starring KIM CARSON, AARON RAMEY, KEVIN MCGUIRE, MATT WOLPE, BILL NOLTE, TODD THURSTON, JOHN LITTLE, 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, SUMMERISA BELL STEVENS, AMBER CORRIGAN, MIRANDA JO DEMOTT, KATIE DOLCE, SOPHIA GUARNASCHELLI, ERIN HAGGERTY, KATHERINE LAFOUNTAINE, CLAIRE LEVASSEUR, MEAGHAN MAHER, SHANE MCGLONE, CHRISTOPHER MCKENNA, MICHAEL MENESHIAN, CHRISTOPHER PAPPAS, AIDAN PASSARO, MEGAN TRAGESAR, THERON VILJOEN and CHLOE WHEELER.

Photos by Michael DeCristofaro; Photo #1) SOPHIA ELENI KEKLLAS and KIM CARSON; Photo #2) KEVIN MCGUIRE

Long Island Press: ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ Works Its Holiday Magic at Northport’s Engeman Theater

BY ELISE PEARLMAN

It began to feel a lot like Christmas  when the musical version of one of the most heartwarming  holiday classics of all time,  Miracle on  34th Street, enlivened the stage at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater right before Thanksgiving.

A holiday show is a genre all its own. It must be family friendly, and evoke nostalgia and sentimentality while it tugs on our heartstrings, yet have music and glitz that fire up the imagination.

Directed by Richard Dolce, the theater’s producing artistic director, Miracle on 34th Street delivers this and so much more.

Valentine Davies’ sentimental tale, which pits the yearnings of our inner child against the dictates of reason, inspired the Academy Award-winning 1947 movie starring Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood. The book, music and lyrics for the musical were penned by Meredith Willson of The Music Man fame. The extremely gifted composer, songwriter and playwright’s deep understanding of human nature shines throughout this production.

This show transports us back to Manhattan in the early ’60s. It’s Thanksgiving morning, and families are embracing the gaiety of the season and anticipating the big parade. Doris Walker, a single mother and Macy’s Department Store executive, has the challenge of orchestrating the festive procession down to the letter.

Soured by a failed marriage, Doris is all work and no play, a staunch pragmatist who has discouraged her young daughter Susan from believing in anything remotely imaginative, including Santa Claus.

Yet after Susan develops a relationship with  charismatic Fred Gailey, a retired marine captain who is about to embark on a career as an attorney, she cannot help but start to believe in the Jolly Old Elf and long for a father.

Meanwhile, back at Macy’s, a  major stumbling block is miraculously  averted when a rosy-faced gentleman bearing  an uncanny resemblance to Santa Claus—and going  by the unlikely name of Kris Kringle—steps up replace  the shamefully drunken gentleman hired to greet the kids in the toy department.

Kringle, who genuinely loves children, more than fits the bill and accomplishes the inconceivable by promoting good will between Macy’s and its rival, Gimbel’s. Here, Kringle breaks the fourth wall by distributing candy canes to the audience, adding to the festivity.

When Kringle indicates that he really believes that he is Santa, he is subjected to a psychological brow-beating by Dr. Sawyer, an egotistical psychologist, and threatened with commitment to Bellevue Hospital.

Willson’s treatment of the romantic subplot adds new dimension to the story. Doris and Fred immediately get off on the wrong foot, and express their mutual disdain in the delightful duet, “Look, Little Girl.” There seems to be no common ground between Fred, a confirmed bachelor who refers to women as dames, and Doris, a smart cookie who has succeeded in breaking Macy’s glass ceiling. Yet, their body language says otherwise, especially when Fred unexpectedly kisses Doris, and she kisses him back. Can these opposites really attract?

The action really heats up in Act II. I particularly enjoyed “She Hadda Go Back,” a delicious slice of musical repartee between Fred and his card-playing buddies during which Fred parades his knowledge of female reasoning.

Fred must somehow defend Kringle’s sanity and his honor by proving that the man is really Santa. Will this mission impossible be Kris’s undoing? The shenanigans that animate the courtroom are  worth the price of admission.

Kevin McGuire, who plays Kringle, is a consummate professional who has appeared in Les Miserables,  Phantom of the Opera and The Secret Garden. He begins to cast his spell as soon as he steps on stage, and the result is pure magic.

It is through the eyes of little Susan Walker that we navigate what we know to be true and our heart’s desire. She is alternately played  by Meaghan Marie McInnes and Sophia  Eleni Kekllas. Meaghan, who performed the night that I attended, is incredibly endearing. She graces the stage with great poise and she has a beautiful singing voice. When she smiles, you can’t help but be smitten.

Many may remember Kim Carson, who plays the doubting Thomasina Doris Walker, from her starring roles in Engeman’s The Music Man, South Pacific, andCamelot. She delivers an astoundingly charismatic performance and her singing is outstanding.  Her Act II solo, “Love Come Take Me,” brought tears to my eyes.

The chemistry between Carson and Aaron Ramey, who plays Fred, her romantic sparring partner, rings true. Ramey, who has appeared on stage and on television, excels as a man who has unwittingly met his match.

A number of actors rein in the laughs with their own unique blend of comedy.  These include Matt Wolpe (as Marvin Shellhammer) and John Little (Dr. Sawyer). I particularly loved the humorous song, “That Man Over There,” as delivered by R.H. Macy (Bill Nolte) and the ensemble during Kringle’s commitment hearing at the New York Supreme Court.

Kathleen Doyle’s costumes—the  plaid dresses, the wonderful cloth coats—will have you nostalgic for this bygone era.

I believe that this is the ninth production that Antoinette DiPietropolo has choreographed for the Engeman Theater, and as always, her work is outstanding.

Miracle on 34th Street  runs through January 4. Tickets can be purchased at the theater’s box office, 250 Main St, Northport, or by calling 261-2900 or going to:www.engemantheater.com.  

(Photo credit: John W. Engeman Theater)

NY Theatre Guide Review: ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ at John W. Engeman Theater

Theatre Review: ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ at John W. Engeman Theater

 Sophia Eleni Kekllas and Kim Carson. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

With the holidays fast approaching, the John W. Engeman Theater opened its seasonal production of Miracle on 34th Street last weekend.  With book, lyrics and music by Meredith Wilson, it is based on the classic 1947 movie of the same name with story and screenplay by Valentine Davies.  Directed here by Richard T. Dolce, Miracle on 34th Street is a heartwarming, holiday treat for the whole family.

When Doris Walker hires a kindly, white-bearded gentleman to play Santa Claus for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, she has no idea what is about to happen.  A cynical single mother, she has raised her daughter, Susan, to be nothing short of completely practical, with no fairy tales, or fanciful hopes and dreams allowed.  The man she hired, however, goes by the name Kris Kringle and claims to actually be the real Santa Claus, spreading his Christmas love and affecting the attitudes of people around him.  As Susan becomes friends with him, and their handsome neighbor Fred Gaily, Doris is forced to reevaluate her outlook on life, faith and love.

. . . a heartwarming, holiday treat for the whole family.

With pleasant voices, sharp comedic timing, and wonderful characterization this entire cast was a pleasure to watch perform.  Kim Carson and Aaron Ramey as Doris and Fred were immensely enjoyable together, and they created a believable atmosphere of romantic tension.  Kevin McGuire was a perfect Kris, from his beard to the twinkle in his eye and the merry spring in his step.  Meaghan Marie McInnes was an absolutely adorable and delightful Susan, and the entire cast of children gave fabulous performances.  Doris’ over-eager assistant Shellhammer, was amusingly played by Matt Wolfe, while R.H. Macy was represented with aplomb by Bill Nolte.  (The character of Susan is alternately portrayed by Sophia Eleni Kekllas.)

A clever set by designer Stephen Dobay greatly aided the plotline, as scenic “windows” were lifted and allowed different rooms to appear.  Costuming by Kathleen Doyle alluded to the past and gave the feel of a time gone by. Wonderful props by Kaye Blankenship and excellent music from conductor David Caldwell and the entire band rounded out the performance beautifully.  A definite must for your holiday schedule, this fun and charming production will certainly help put you in the Christmas spirit.

Running Time: Approximately 2 ½ hours including one 15-minute intermission.

Miracle on 34th Street is playing at The John W. Engeman Theater through January 3, 2016.  The theater is located at 250 Main Street, Northport NY.  For more information and tickets, click here.

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