It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Toby’s Dinner Theatre with their holiday musical production of Miracle on 34th Street.
And what famous store in NYC is located on 34th Street? Why, Macy’s department store, of course! Macy’s is the setting for this story which asks the question, ” is Santa real or just a myth?”
For many, the start of the Christmas season is the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And that is where this story begins.
The big band/swing style song, “Big Ca-Lown Balloons” expresses everyone’s excitement for the parade, especially the balloons that are as “high as a building and wide as a merry go round.” With terrific musical direction by Douglas Lawler, Toby’s live orchestra really gets to shine with this song, featuring keyboards, drum, trumpet, trombone, and woodwinds.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Toby’s Dinner Theatre…
The dancing throughout the production is lively and entertaining, thanks to Choreographer Mark Minnick. To me, his style of choreography in this production resembles that of legendary choreographer Michael Kidd, best known for his work for the 1954 film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers that was noted for a series of energetic dances depicting ordinary everyday life activities. In fact, Mr. Kidd was the choreographer of Here’s Love in 1963 which later became known as the musical version of Miracle on 34th Street. Minnick’s use of straight-forward, yet creative hand gestures and natural everyday movements helped to tell the story of songs such as “That Man Over There,” “The Toy Ballet,” and “Plastic Alligator.”
Heather Marie Beck is superb as Doris Walker, a divorced, cynical single mother who works at Macy’s. Both Doris and her daughter Susan (played by Sadie Herman at this performance) and the entire state of New York believe, at first, that Santa Claus is just a myth.
Fostering a camaraderie between Macy’s and Gimbel’s, Kris Kringle proclaims in the song “Here’s Love” that everybody should love everybody. Robert Biederman as Kris Kringle isn’t a fat man that goes around saying, “ho, ho, ho!” Instead, a rather slim Mr. Biederman plays the role convincingly as a man with a white beard and cane (no not candy cane) who strongly believes in the true holiday spirit of giving and loving one another.
It is the love of Fred Gaily (Jeffrey Shankle), Doris’ attorney neighbor, who follows the message of Kris Kringle and does everything in his power to show how much he loves Doris and her daughter Susan. Jeffrey Shankle with his boyish good looks, lovely singing voice, and smooth dance moves really brightens up the stage.
Darren McDonnell is funny as Marvin Shellhammer, an aggressive but somewhat bungling junior executive. In his song, “Plastic Alligator,” he teaches his co-workers a jingle to help sell the many plastic alligators that he mistakenly ordered.
Last, but not least we have the man himself. No, not Santa Claus. I mean, R. H. Macy, the head of Macy’s department store. Lawrence B. Munsey strikes a fine balance between being a tough business owner and a man who loves to give back to the community.
The most famous song in the show is a holiday standard. “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas” was written and composed by Meredith Willson, the author of The Music Man. Of course, it is next to impossible to match the quality of songs like “76 Trombones” and “‘Till There Was You” from The Music Man. The music in Miracle on 34th Street, while not Willson’s best, is peppy enough to keep the story moving forward. The song “She Hadda Go Back” is pure Willson with the verses sounding like the song “Trouble” from The Music Man.
Overall, Miracle on 34th Street is a nice holiday treat for the whole family. Expertly directed by Shawn Kettering, this show is worth seeing for the outstanding cast, musicians, and colorful costumes.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
Miracle on 34th Street plays through January 5, 2014 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia— 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call (301) 596-6161 or purchase them online.