BWW Reviews: Despite Stellar Cast, Touring Production of MIRACLE ON 34th STREET Needs a Miracle
Greeting audiences with a familiar New York City backdrop painting framed in a gorgeous white paneling and seasonal décor, the touring production of "Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical" doesn't offer much beyond its original seasons' greetings. Despite a strong, talented cast, the musical only offers a hodge-podge of mostly unmemorable songs that try too hard to recreate composer MerEdith Wilson's most famous scores.
Wilson, of course, is of "The Music Man" and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" fame, but none of what made his masterpieces so memorable comes through in "Miracle," which makes for a holiday show strangely lacking in Christmas music. The Christmas story stays put, remaining true to its source material, the 1947 film. Kris Kringle comes to New York City to save the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, after which he attempts to win over Doris and her daughter, Susan, both of whom do not believe in Santa Claus. In the process, Kris must also win over the city, as a disgruntled Macy's employee causes trouble for everyone.
With a script that comes almost directly from the film and music that just doesn't fit, "Miracle" would be far better suited to a smaller, more intimate theatre. The Troupe America national touring production deserves credits for Director John Tsafoyannis' smart casting choices. Both leads and ensemble have the chops to outshine the material they're given to work with. FrEd Mackaman makes an amiable Kris Kringle. With a beautiful voice, Karen Weber has some of the best standout moments of the show playing the cynical mother, Doris Walker, and Bella Blackshaw shows great promise with adorable singing and acting as the young Susan. Jeff March plays Susan's inspiring neighbor, Fred Gailey. Tom Bengston is appropriately hilarious as the anxious employee supervisor Mr. Shellhammer, and Marl Bailey Capalbo displays one of the best vocal and acting talents in the small, but memorable role of Mr. Macy.
Still, as it currently stands, the tour only has three musicians in the pit (most of the music is synthesized) and it uses pleasant, but minimal sets and staging. A lovely parade procession requires audiences to use their imagination, and that works fine until Santa comes out on a pathetic, cardboard sleigh. More crucial moments go by quickly while other moments drag on too long. The overture seems like a mash up of indistinguishable tunes. Audiences get a reprieve from the dull production in the second act when some real life finally enters a courtroom scene.
But overall, the phenomenal cast of "Miracle on 34th Street" could not save a poorly put-together script, especially when a bad sound system of echoing mikes made it difficult to understand half of the dialogue and lyrics Saturday afternoon at the Gallo Center. The musical does have its positive moments - Kris Kringle sings a moving "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You" lullaby, and everyone knows "It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas" - and Children will love seeing Santa Clause on stage, but adults will have a far more difficult time staying interested.
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET National Tour
Gallo Center for the Arts
Ellen Eccles Theatre
Union Colony Civic Center
Cam-Plex Heritage Center
Alberta Bair Theatre
The Mother Lode Theatre
The Lerner Performing Arts Center
Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center
Macomb Center for the Performing Arts
Clinton Township, Michigan
Ford Community and Performing Arts Center
Terre Haute, Indiana
Fox Cities Performing Arts Center
The Orpheum Theatre
The Strand Theatre
Alma Performing Arts Center
The Carson Center
Southern KY Performing Arts Center
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Henderson Fine Arts Center
Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center
Cedar Falls, Iowa
The Hoyt Sherman Place
Des Moines, Iowa
Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts