BWW Review: Experience a MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET at Toby's in Columbia

BWW Review: Experience a MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET at Toby's in Columbia

If your holiday season begins on Thanksgiving Day with the Macy's parade followed by 8-year-old Natalie Wood in Miracle on 34th Street, Toby's has a treat for you: MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, THE MUSICAL. It's heartwarming and sweet, and likely to leave you with warm fuzzies for a week or two.

Access to Toby's from Route 29 Southbound couldn't be easier: take the South Entrance Road exit, then turn left into the parking lot of Toby's Dinner Theatre. From the South, beware of road closures and traffic surrounding the beautiful drive-through holiday light display, Symphony Of Lights, which nestles right up to the theatre.

The overall atmosphere of Toby's is warm, welcoming, and not overly arty. The multi-tiered seating around the floor that's both stage and buffet area assures good views from every seat. It's snug-ish; leave unnecessaries elsewhere, and be prepared to be friendly with your neighbors. The buffet offers variety to please everyone, including a sturdy salad bar, shrimp cocktail and a basket of wonderful bread- both the sourdough and the sweet rolls are delicious. Macy's Maple Potatoes are a surprising combination of sweet and savoury, and Gimble's Green Beans remind me of a light version of holiday staple green bean casserole. Santa's Stuffed Chicken is moist with cornbread and tomato stuffing and a hint of spicy kick . For your sweet tooth, there's a choice between two served desserts, and an ice cream bar in the lobby as well. Everything is well prepared, seasoned nicely but not heavily, and attractively displayed. I'm always a fan of the cole slaw and of Toby's signature spinach dish, Spinach Funque.

Based on the now-classic black and white film, which I happen to adore, starring tiny precocious Natalie Wood, Meredith Willson's MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, THE MUSICAL has enough sweetness to suit the season, enough sass to not be saccharin, and enough 1950s attitudes about the interactions between men and women to set some teeth on edge. Since, however, the delightful song "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas" originates in this show, (and a pretty little number it is, too), I will try to forgive the blatant patronizing patriarchal overtones of "Look, Little Girl" and the frat boy attitude of "She Had To Go Back." It's not a well-known script, partially because it's been produced under three titles: It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas and Here's Love are the other two.

Director Shawn Kettering assembles a lovely cast to populate this tiny bite of The Big Apple. Beloved Toby's favorite Robert John Biedermann plays the pivotal role of Kris Kringle. The children's parts are double-cast, and I am treated to capable, charming child actor Lilianna Robinson as Susan Walker. Heather Marie Beck is staunchly sympathetic as Susan's sensible, unromantic mother, Doris Walker. As romantic leading lawyer Fred Gaily, Jeffrey Shankle is both warm and stubborn. In his double role of Tammany O'Halloran and Mr. Gimble, the facets of David James twinkle brightly. There are a couple of bit parts for DeCarlo Raspberry, all the sweet, childlike children get plenty of stage time, divine character actor Santina Maiolatesi brings the cute in a small but adorable role, and there are many beautiful ensemble numbers that feature Macy's employees and plastic alligators or happy holiday shoppers in their happy holiday coats and hats. The many costumes of designer Lawrence B. Munsey are early to mid-fifties in period, and well done. Doris's suits are lovely

The humanistic choreography by Mark Minnick is active, picturesque and appropriate, keeping the cast moving around and the pacing lively even when the script falters, which it sometimes does: the relationship between Doris and Susan is unconventionally charming, but the romance between Doris and Fred seems forced, while the conflicts between them seem manufactured and artificial. There is a lovely fantasy number for Susan which appears not at all in the film version, and the sequence gives some dimension to the otherwise worldly little girl.

Douglas Lawler's musical direction and orchestration give the live, but hidden, mini-orchestra, conducted by Pamela Wilt or himself, a strong emotional audio backdrop to each scene, but allow the vocals of each musical number to feature strongly without fancy embellishments.The sound quality, by the way, is perfect.

The set is modular in nature, and locations are corralled in little pools of light- kudos to lighting designer Lynn Joslin- allowing for set changes to be done DURING scenes, which is quite clever and efficient, and really keeps the pacing snappy. In film, cutting to another location is easy. It's much more challenging to do that in live theatre, but stage manager Kate Wackerle and the Toby's run crew manage it smoothly and, (even more impressive), silently.

In live theatre, anything can happen, and tonight we are spectators to a farcical moment in which a pair of restroom-bound seniors slowly pass through the very doorway of Miss Crookshank's intended exit, and the impromptu but in-character dithering of Santina Maiolatesi as she allows the couple to pass is a tribute to her, and to the accommodating nature of Toby's overall.

Intermission offers an opportunity to visit the men's and ladies' rooms, and the gentlemen always express shock and sympathy when viewing the length of the Ladies' Room line, but it moves quickly and there are pleasant people to speak with during the wait. If you've ordered intermission beverages, your actor-server arrives, at least partially costumed, to deliver them. I recommend "The Kringle," which is very like a grown-up strawberry milkshake.

In short, once again the production team and performers of Toby's deliver a cozy, satisfying sugarplum, with moments of pure delight. Do treat yourself and your loved ones, young and old, to this warm-hearted live rendition of a treasured classic, and make local theatre part of your family's holiday memories.

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, THE MUSICAL plays through January 7th. 2018, at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia, which is easily accessed from 29 Southbound, with plenty of free parking all around the building.

Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia

5900 Symphony Woods Road

Columbia, MD 21044

For additional information including pricing, buffet menu and directions, visit www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.

For tickets, phone the box office at 410-730-8311,

301-596-6161

or 1-800-88-TOBYS 10 am - 9 pm.

Doors open at 6pm Tuesday through Saturday evenings, with dinner from 6:30-7:20 for an 8 pm showtime. Wednesday and Sunday Matinees, the buffet is 10:30-11:50 am for a 12:30 pm show. Sunday evening supper is at 5:30 pm, with a 7 pm showtime. The show runs about one and a half hours, including a 20 minute intermission.

Lilianna Robinson and Robert John Biederman 125 as Susan and Santa Claus.

Photo Credit: Jeri Tidwell Photography



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