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!
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.
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