“Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical” (originally titled “Here’s Love”), with music, book, and lyrics by Meredith Willson (“The Music Man”), premiered on Broadway in 1963 and is based on the 1947 Academy Award-winning film of the same name. Included in the play is the song “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” written by Mr. Willson in 1951 and recorded by Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, and many others. During its brief run, actors in the Broadway musical included Janis Paige, Fred Gwynne, Michael Bennett, Richard Kiley, John Payne, Lisa Kirk, and Craig Stevens. Subsequent adaptations include a stage play, a radio play, three versions for television, and a puppet play.
…it was ‘beginning to look like Christmas’ in this wonderful performance—a perfect start to the season.
The story, based on the novella written by Valentine Davies, revolves around a department store Santa who claims to be the real Santa Claus. The setting takes place in New York, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and includes Macy’s Department Store and the Thanksgiving Day Parade. A production of the musical, directed by this reviewer, ran at both Spotlighters Theatre and the Vagabond Players in December of 1975. I was so happy to see it revived again at Toby’s.
Robert Biedermann plays Kris Kringle in addition to his regular off-stage roles as host/greeter/announcer. He warms up the audience with announcements of birthdays and anniversaries; welcomes patrons to the salad bar and buffet; promotes upcoming productions; and gives general advice throughout the evening. His Kris Kringle is warm, genial, appealing, and has the pathos of a man not recognized for what he really is or symbolizes.
Heather Marie Beck portrays Doris Walker, the Macy’s executive who organizes the Thanksgiving Day Parade. She is all business with an edge of bitterness from a divorce. She is raising a daughter, Susan (Hazel Vogel, alternating with Audrey Wolff), who does not believe in Santa Claus. Ms. Beck has two solos, one in each act. Both are rather poignant ballads which she handles very well, with a strong voice giving meaning to the lyrics. She ends the show with “Love, Come Take Me Again,” which love does in the person of Jeffrey Shankle as Fred Gaily, an ex-Marine whose tough love gives Doris a reality check throughout the show. His tenor voice soars in “My Wish” and “Look, Little Girl” as he tries to shake Susan’s disbelief and stimulate her imagination. Meredith Willson obviously could not resist writing a comic song similar to “You Got Trouble” from “The Music Man.” Mr. Shankle was joined by male ensemble members in a rousing rendition of “She Hadda Go Back,” very cleverly choreographed by Mark Minnick, who also made sure the entire cast was in fine dancing form in the various musical scenes.
The familiar “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas” is repeated occasionally throughout the show but never so beautifully as when sung with “Pine Cones and Holly Berries,” a contrapuntal arrangement by Mr. Willson. The first act is very hectic, introducing many characters to set up the second act courtroom scene in which Kris Kringle must prove that he is not insane, but actually the real Santa Claus. The proof Fred uses to defend him is unexpectedly surprising.
It seems every major department store needs a strong owner/CEO, and Jordan Stockdale gives R.H. Macy a demanding stage presence and a hearty baritone voice. His manager, Marvin Schellhammer (Davis James), is manic, witty, and clever as he tries to convince the boss to sell “Plastic Alligators” as a holiday attraction. Mr. James also kept us laughing with his quips when he waited on our table. Kudos also go to David Bosley-Reynolds playing the Governor of New York and the Judge of the state supreme court. He is a Toby’s veteran with many character roles to his credit. The children in the cast add a lot of enthusiasm and cheer to the ensemble numbers, and it’s clear they are having a great time!
Director Shawn Kettering, with assistance from David Hopkins (scenic design), Lynn Joslin (lighting design), Sarah King (costume design), Mark Smedley (sound design), and Cheryl Stansfield (production stage manager), kept the ball rolling and the action packed. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade scene had clowns, a toy soldier, Goldilocks and a bear, Santa’s helpers, a marching band, Santa on a huge sleigh—some of which reminded me of the giant balloons in the real version. Music director Ross Scott Rawlings and Conductor Nathan Scavilla kept the music rousing and the ensemble singing. Thanks to the overall effect of colorful costumes, some unusual props and set pieces, wall projections, the use of two balconies, clever lighting, clear sound, and wonderful music and singing, it was “beginning to look like Christmas” in this wonderful performance—a perfect start to the season.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
Advisory: Fog, haze, and strobe lighting may be used in this production.
“Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical” runs through January 7, 2024 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia MD 21044. For more information and to purchase tickets, please call the Box Office at 410-730-7311, Monday through Sunday from 10 am – 8 pm, or visit online.