REVIEW: Miracle on 34th Street (Porchlight Music Theatre)

   
  

A charming Santa works his magic

  
  

MIRACLE 2010--David Heimann as Fred Gailey and Nicole Karkazis as Susan Walker

   
Porchlight Music Theatre presents
   
Miracle on 34th Street
   
By Patricia DiBenedetto, Will Snyder & John Vreeke
Directed by Christopher Pazdernik
at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through Jan 2  |  tickets: $38  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Christmas has become so commercialized that we now have genuine shopping holidays that serve as a preamble to one of the most sacred days of the Christian faith. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. I’m Jewish, and even I wince when I see the words "Doorbuster Deals" printed on the same flier as an angel trumpeting the arrival of Jesus.

Miracle on 34th Street - Porchlight Music TheatreValentine Davies, the novelist behind Miracle on 34th Street, saw this commercialization when it was in its infancy. His story is intelligent and effective at satirizing the season. The classic movie adaptation, directed by George Seaton, lives on in the American zeitgeist, in part because of just how strongly the story appeals to our sense of love and compassion over commodities and materialism.  

Porchlight’s somewhat musical version of Miracle on 34th Street isn’t going to go own in history as influencing the minds of the American public, but it’s an entertaining ticket that has some truly charming elements.

And the most charming element of all is the plays’ Santa (Jim Sherman). Sherman’s got the humble magnanimity down. He plays Kris Kringle with both an endearing aloofness and a fiery passion for good and righteousness. Plus, he knows how to pander to the kids in the audience, which doesn’t hurt a bit.

For those that have never seen Miracle on 34th Street, the story centers on Macy’s, in a time before the department store grew to swallow al competition. The store has a new Santa Claus for the holiday season because the last one liked hitting the sauce a little too much. However, this new Santa is quite peculiar. In fact, he takes the whole thing way too seriously, referring to himself as Kris Kringle and claiming his next of kin as Prancer and Blixen.

Still, he’s a damn good Santa, and the customers sure do love him, which makes Mr. Macy happy. Yet, some aren’t so pleased with his success and seek to take him down. When the store’s counselor Mr. Sawyer (Michael Pacas) claims Kris attacked him, Santa is locked away and put on trial.

But it’s not just Santa whose fate is in the air. The fate of little Susan Walker (Nicole Karkazis) and her mother Doris (Christa Buck) also hinges on whether Santa really is Santa. That’s because both have been confronted with a crisis of faith, and if Kris is not who he says he is, then cynicism may just ice over their hearts forever.

   
MIRACLE 2010--Matthew Miles as Mr. Shelhammer and Michael Pacas as Sawyer Miracle on 34th Street - Jim Sherman and Nicole Karkazis
MIRACLE 2010--Christa Buck as Doris Walker and Nicole Karkazis as Susan Walker MIRACLE 2010--Jim Sherman as Kris Kringle horizontal

Director Christopher Pazdernik does a good job keeping the story moving along swiftly. There’s no reason for slow drama to create tension. We know the story, and children only have so much attention to devote to a courtroom drama. The little holiday song interludes between scenes are cute, but don’t do much to really enhance the show. And the big holiday opening number is a high-energy beginning, but it feels too over-the-top for the rather subdued play.

Audience interaction in certain parts is encouraged. In fact, a couple children were pulled out of the audience and got to sit on Santa’s lap in the middle of the play. Afterward, kids are encouraged to participate in a meet-and-greet with the jolly man in red.

Jana Anderson deserves special recognition for designing one of the classiest Santa costumes I have ever seen. This isn’t your usual red felt with cotton fuzz. This is old-world Santa, with a quality coat decorated in a multi-toned print.

Miracle on 34th Street is definitely a kid pleaser, though adult chaperones are sure to enjoy themselves as well. It’s a fairly barebones production. But with such a convincing Santa, the ornamental takes a backseat to holiday spirit and heart.  

  
 
Rating: ★★★  
   
  

MIRACLE 2010--cast

     
     

     
     

Cast and Crew

 

CHRISTA BUCK (Doris Walker) is very happy to return to Miracle on 34th Street. Favorite Porchlight roles (besides this one) include April (Company) and Tessie Tura (Gypsy). She recently played Widow Douglas and Aunt Sally in Bohemian Theatre Ensemble’s acclaimed production of Big River. Christa has appeared at Theatre at the Center (The Sound of Music-Sr. Margaretta), Court Theatre (James Joyce’s The Dead-Lily), TimeLine Theatre (The Cradle Will Rock-Sadie/Sister Mister), as well as several other local and regional theatres. 

KATHARINE CIKANEK (Maryke’s Mother, Mrs. Mara) is thrilled to be making her Porchlight debut and would like to thank her dear friend Christopher, as well as Walter and Eugene for this wonderful opportunity. She will be appearing in Boeing Boeing (Illinois Theatre Center) in the spring. Katharine’s stage credits include Tour Guide in Light in the Piazza (Illinois Theatre Center), Yvonne/Naomi in Sunday in the Park with George (Village Players), Louis in Mountain Days: The John Muir Story (Theatre-Hikes), and Narrator in Blue Nativity (Quest Theatre Ensemble). A native Chicagoan, she holds a BFA in Musical Theatre Performance from Rockford College where she performed in productions such as Phantom, Ruthless, An Ideal Husband, Angels in America, Cole, Spitfire Grill, Gianni Schicchi, Anton in Show Business andInto the Woods. Katharine would like to thank her incredible parents for dragging her to the Christmas tree farm every year, for White Christmas & Holiday Inn and for anxious Christmas mornings spent waiting for them to awake. She also sends endless love to her unwaveringly supportive friends. Merry Christmas!

KELLY HACKETT (Dr. Pierce/Sally’s Mother) happily returns to Porchlight where she appeared as Frieda/Betty in Sunday in the Park with George. A native of Wisconsin, Kelly holds a degree in music and theatre from Lawrence University. She spent many years performing in theatres across the country, recently at The Fireside playing Sister Margaretta and Frau Schmidt in The Sound of Music. Some of her favorite roles include Anna in The King and I, Nancy in Oliver, Ginger inThe 1940’s Radio Hour, Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors and The Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods. She portrayed Alma in The Christmas Schooner, Miss Flannery in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Irene Molloy in Hello, Dolly and Sister in Damn Yankees. Kelly also enjoyed South Pacific; she played Nellie opposite Tom Wopat’s Emile! Love to family and friends, old and new!

JIM HEATHERLY (Judge Henry X. Harper) is excited to be returning to Porchlight Music Theatre to reprise his role as Judge Harper in the heartwarming story Miracle on 34th Street. Jim has spent a good deal of time in front of and behind the footlights in the past ten years, working in more than fifty productions around the Chicagoland area. This year, he portrayed Herr Schultz in Hypocrites’ production ofCabaret and was most recently seen as Judge Alexander in Straw Dog Theatre’s production of State of the Union. Thank you to Walter, Eugene and the rest of the Porchlight team for this wonderful opportunity.  Annamae, I found the muse!

DAVID HEIMANN (Fred Gailey) is please to be returning to Porchlight Music Theatre. He was last seen in Porchlight’s production of A Wonderful Life playing the role of George Bailey. David’s acting credits include receipt of the 2003 Jeff Citation for Supporting Actor in a Musical for his role in A Kurt Weill Review at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre Company. He has performed with several Chicago theatre companies including Chicago Kids Company, Stage Left, and Pegasus Players. David also directs and choreographs having recently choreographed Sweet and Hot: The Songs of Harold Arlen and directed The Man of La Mancha, both at Theo Ubique. AMDG.

NICOLE KARKAZIS (Susan Walker) is making her Porchlight Music Theatre debut, and is honored and thankful to be playing the part of Susan. Nicole was recently seen in the HPP production of Annie(Annie) and the ATC production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Nicole is a member of the ATC Repertory Company where she can be seen this winter in the TYA productions of Into the Woods(Little Red) and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (Linus). Many thanks to family and friends for their continual love and support (and chauffeuring), and to Janet Louer for her invaluable guidance. Enjoy the show and remember: Life is much sweeter when you BELIEVE!

CHASE McCURDY (Alfred, Bailiff) originally from Houston, TX, made his way to Chicago after achieving his BFA in Theater from The University of Oklahoma. Recent roles include: Barfee in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Big Noise and Ouroboros Theater Cos.; Chase inThe Bible…Abridged, Ouroboros Theater Co.; Lennie in Of Mice and Men, Great Plains Theater Co.; Franz Liebkind in The Producers, McLeod Summer Playhouse; Camillo in The Winter’s Tale, Chase Park Theater; Bully/Oscar in Johnny Ten Bones, Brain Surgeon Theater. Chase would like to thank his friends and family for their tremendous support, encouragement, and inspiration.

MATTHEW WILSON MILES (Mr. Shelhammer) is overjoyed to return to Porchlight for the 2nd year of Miracle on 34th Street. Regional credits include Assassins (Balladeer), Meet Me in St. Louis (Warren),Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding (Father Mark) and Mancow’s Morning Madhouse(David Cross), TV/Film: Prison Break, Budweiser and festival-bound "Fugue". Thanks to Walter Stearns, Tony, Allan Chambers, Karl, Mom/Dad and Ambassador Talent. Nothing is possible w/o you Agnes!

MICHAEL PACAS (Mr. Sawyer) recently appeared as the Boatman in Porchlight Music Theatre’s Sunday in the Park With George. A BackStage Theatre ensemble member, Michael appeared in their productions of The Play about the Baby; The Skin of our Teeth and Terra Nova.. He also directed their production of Medea, in which he incorporated American Sign Language. Other acting credits includeMacbeth (City Lit); The Robber Bridegroom (Griffin); The Threepenny Opera and Equus (The Hypocrites) and Barrymore, which he also directed/produced. His is a graduate of the International Cabaret Conference at Yale University; LSU and the Theatre School, DePaul. Michael gives special thanks to Tim, and the rest of his extended family. Visit http://pacas.ws for info on his upcoming projects. Michael believes in Santa Claus!

LINDSEY PEARLMAN (Sally) has been singing and dancing since the age of three but didn’t officially take the stage until she was six when she appeared as Lydia Snoop in The Great Ghost Chase. She loved it so much she hasn’t left the stage since!  She has played principle roles in School House Rock, Fee Fi Fo Fum, Shoemaker and the Elvesand also two commercial print ads. In 2009 Lindsey served as National American Miss National Cover Girl and in 2010 won the Miss Vernon Hills crown for the Jr. Pre-teen Pageant. Lindsey loves to be in any production where she can meet new people and make new friends. She thanks her coaches from Wishing Star Theatre, Linda Klepac and Jim Shedd for their wonderful inspiration and her family for their loving support.

ALEX RADTKE (Jake, Thomas Mara Jr.) is thrilled to be back at Porchlight after being a part of the cast of Miracle on 34th Street last year. Since then, he has appeared on stage in two productions at Lyric Opera, and has recently been invited to be a part of Lookingglass Theatre’s Young Ensemble. As a home-schooled fifth grade student, Alex is active in numerous activities including participation in three triathalons!  Special thanks to mom and dad for their love and support.

JIM SHERMAN (Kris Kringle) is delighted to be back for a second year with Porchlight Music Theatre’s warm and wonderful production ofMiracle on 34th Street. Jim was last seen as Everett Baker in Crazy for You at TATC. Regional credits include Phantom, Secret Garden and the Jeff Award winning Ragtime with Porchlight Music Theatre and five seasons in The Christmas Schooner (Jeff nomination) at Bailiwick Repertory. He also appeared as Cardinal Law in Bailiwick’s Sin: A Cardinal Deposed which won Boston’s IRNE Award for Best Visiting Production and for which he received a Jeff Citation. He has appeared in numerous productions with the Stages Festival at Theatre Building Chicago and in The One Eyed Man is King at Pegasus. As a regular company member, he appeared in more than 25 productions with Theatre II and Prairie Dog Theater Company. Jim has also done radio and industrial film work. He thanks his wife, Barbara, for her loving patience and support.

STEVE TOMLITZ (Thomas Mara, Sally’s Father) is thrilled to be working with Porchlight again, having had the blessing of understudying the roles of Father and Henry Ford in Ragtime. He performed both roles several times. Other favorite Chicago credits include Claude in Hair with Tonkawa Theatre Tribe, Cable in South Pacific at Metropolis, and The Balladeer in Assassins at Boxer Rebellion. Steve would like to thank Walter and Eugene for the opportunity, his family, friends, and of course his wife Rebecca for their undying love and support.

MICK WEBER, AEA (Mr. Macy) is thrilled to be back at Porchlight, where he was last seen in the Jeff-nominated Gypsy as Herbie. Other Chicago theatre credits include: Goodman Theatre (The Good Negro); Court Theatre (Thyestes); Chicago Shakespeare (Short Shakes Romeo & Juliet); Writers Theatre (Bus Stop); Victory Gardens (Hanging Fire); Chicago Dramatists (The Invasion of Skokie). New York Theatre: Circle Rep (Balm in Gilead); Players Theatre (Another Paradise); Soho Rep (Dream of Wealth); Urban Stages (Pieces of the Sky); Currican (Bliss). Regional Theatre:  Fulton Opera House (Driving Miss Daisy); Actors Theatre of Louisville (Raisin in the Sun); Merrimack Rep (Awake and Sing); Milwaukee Shakespeare (Macbeth); American Stage (A Winter’s Tale); TheatreVirginia (Art); Stamford Theater Works (Side Man).  Film/Television:  Happy Accidents (Brad Anderson); Polio Water (NY Film Festival); Warzonz (Silver Medal, Houston Film Festival); Law and Order(NBC); TV Funhouse (Comedy Central). Mr. Weber holds an MFA in Acting from NYU and has been an Actors Equity member for 26 years.

HANNAH WHITLOCK (Maryke) is thrilled to be making her Porchlight Music Theatre debut. Theatre credits include:  Carousel (Light Opera Works) and Annie (Highland Park Players). Hannah is in fifth grade at Westmoor Elementary School; her hobbies and interests include: tennis, dance, piano, violin, soccer, choir, and hanging out with friends. Much love and thanks to family and friends for all their continued support. "Vrolijke Kertsmis" to all!

CHRIS PAZDERNIK (Director) is honored to be directing his first Porchlight production after assisting on Candide and helming numerous benefit concerts. Favorite Chicago credits include The Full Monty (Choreographer, Village Players), Bombs Away and Show Us Your Love (Choreographer, Bailiwick Chicago), Far From Freud(Director, Village Players–World Premiere), F**king Men (Assistant Director, Bailiwick Chicago), and director/producer for two cabaret shows at Davenport’s: The Distance You Have Come: The Songs of Scott Alan and It’s an Art: The Songs of Stephen Schwartz. Christopher is a graduate of Elmhurst College, where he will return in January to direct Songs for a New World. When not directing, he can also be found working as the Advancement Associate at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.  Christopher is an especially proud artistic associate of both Bailiwick Chicago and Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago. (Clearly, he’s not allowed to work anywhere without ‘Chicago’ in the title.)  Many thanks to Walter for this opportunity, to friends and family for their support, and to the audience for supporting live theater.

MIRACLE 2010--Jim Sherman as Kris Kringle & Santa Claus

All bios and pictures courtesy of Porchlight’s production page.

 

     
     

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