Like many other now-classic Christmas stories, “Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical” came to the theatrical stage following a film.
The Meredith Willson (that’s right, “The Music Man” Meredith Willson) holiday musical, which opened a three weekend run in Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre Friday evening, began back in 1947 as a very popular “straight” family movie from 20th Century Fox which went for the Christmas gold again with a repeat in 1994.
In between movies were a 1973 made-for-TV version and Willson’s 1963 musical, initially titled “Here’s Love.”
All of which goes to prove you change the format and the title but you can’t keep a good Christmas story down.
First, let’s agree that lightening doesn’t often strike twice and this “Miracle” is a far cry from River City. What it is is a familiar and traditionally heart-warming story about the real meaning of Christmas, which ups the sentimental quotient considerably via pleasant but not memorable melodies.
As always Wagon Wheel director Scott Michaels has assembled a solid cast led by Robert Joseph Miller as Kris Kringle (Yes, Virginia, that beard is real!); Cordelia Grandon as Susan Walker, the pre-teen who doesn’t believe in Santa; Jennifer Dow as her mother, Doris, a divorcee with a lot of bitter memories and a lack of belief in anything she can’t see, taste or touch; and Nathan Robert Pecchia as Fred Gaily, a warm-hearted lawyer who comes to Susan’s aid and Santa’s defense. His warm baritone is a plus throughout. Dow and Pecchia have the task of making their unlikely relationship seem likely, in spite of a script that doesn’t help.
In addition to Santa, audience favorites are Chuckie Benson as Marvin Shellhammer, a toadying Macy’s employee, and Mike Yocum as his equally bombastic boss R.H. Macy. Together they put the “far out” in farce, with Benson doing double time in the prat fall department.
The rather uneven scenario jumps from up-tempo ensemble numbers (“Big Ca-Lown Balloons.” “Plastic Alligators,” “Here’s Love,” “That Man Over There Is Santa Claus” and “My State, My Kansas”) to introspective solo ballads (“You Don’t Know,” “Doris’ Look” and “Love Come Take Me Away), the last being the most fish-out-of-water finale of any musical in recent memory, in spite of being well delivered. I kept waiting for more balloons!
Grandon handles well the role of pragmatic young girl who finds belief in her heart and helps Kris recharge his own.
Miller does a fine job of balancing Santa’s interaction with unbelieving adults and definitely believing children, especially in “Bugles,” sung with Parker Ralstin, an adorable scene stealer as Hendrika, a little Dutch girl who can’t speak English. His introduction to Susan of the (“Imagi-Nation”) speaks to all ages as he encourages her to “Expect Things to Happen.”
It’s a plus that he really looks like Santa!
The “Miracle” ensemble is made up of equal parts adults and children, some very young. Check them out. Each one knows exactly what to do and when to do it and delivers all with enthusiastic fervor and an enviable focus!
NOTE: For those who have no idea what Macy’s and Gimbel’s were, try Google.
“MIRACLE ON 34th STREET: A Musical” plays Friday through Sunday and Dec. 15-17 in the theatre at 251 E. Center St. in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041.