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.

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