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

     
     

     
     

Continue reading

Review: “The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)”

Screwball Fun from Genesis to The Last Supper

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

As evident by the enormous controversy triggered by Notre Dame selecting President Obama to speak at their commencement ceremony, the Judeo-Christian religious views that have shaped Western civilization for the past 2000 years are still very much a force in our lives. And like any institution that has been around for that long, the history, thought, and tradition of Judeo-Christianity are easy targets for parody. Ouroboros Theatre Company's 'The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)' Ouroboros Theatre Company takes aim at Christianity’s holiest text and best-selling book in history, the Bible, in their production of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), originally created by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Tucked away in the intimate Heartland studio theatre (map) in Rogers Park, the three person cast puts on a vaudevillian type show that blends jokes, audience participation, smatterings of improv, and plenty of Cubs references into a decently funny hour and a half journey through the Bible.

Just to be clear, this ain’t The Da Vinci Code. Nobody should expect to leave the show with a deeper grasp of the Holy Bible. The three performers, straight-man Chase McCurdy, childlike Michael Herschberg, and acerbic Lindsey Pearlman, guide and acknowledge the audience through their irreverent re-envisioning of the Bible. The play feels like an PG-13 episode of “Veggie Tales” combined with a vastly misinformed theology lecture; the actors address the audience in-between short vignettes. Director Ron Keaton ripened the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s script with nods to current events and local flavor. Some of these topical jokes fare well (Facebook, David Letterman, Blagojevich), while others fall flat (parking meters, Cranium, and far too many Chicago baseball jokes). Most of the humor actually isn’t contained in the text, but in the actors’ reactions to the fact that the comedy isn’t of the highest denomination. You can tell that everyone on stage is having a really good time, and their energy passes onto the audience well.

"The Bible" banner The problem with the show is that there are many unrealized conventions. The set is far too intricate for a play requiring barely any scenic elements at all. The centerpiece of the stage is a giant book plastered with the show’s title; I really wished the pages could’ve actually been turned, Monty Python and the Holy Grail-style. Instead, the production relies on what seems like an endless supply of props, including a reproduction of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper with the faces cut out, a Rastafarian wig, and fish puppets. Fortunately for everyone involved, the props are used well and the show never strays into lame Carrot Top territory. Some opportunities are missed—while discussing the Resurrection of the Lord, Chase appears in an Easter Bunny costume, but the real comedy comes from the fact that the costume is split down the back to fit the corpulent actor. But he never shows off his backside, throwing away a great potential joke. Another underused asset is musical director Joanna Lind, who is perched with her keyboard above the action on a rock. Dressed in an angel costume, she provides the music and is occasionally engaged by the other actors as a divine authority figure. Although her playing abilities are fine, her character is never fully realized, which feels like another missed opportunity for the production. The trio also has a few timing and delivery issues, but they rapidly fire joke after joke so the duds don’t derail the production. With a little less focus on over-rehearsed bits and a little more freedom and improvisation, this show could’ve been even funnier.

The Super Soaker was invented by Lonnie Johnson, now of Johnson Research Group. It is clear that the goal of this production is to have fun, and it definitely succeeds (how could one go wrong with Supersoakers?). If you are in the mood for a screwball approach to the most influential book in the history of the world, Ouroboros Theatre serves it up with plenty of gags, goofy props, and pokes at the Book of Job.

Rating: ««½

Now playing at:

BoHo Theatre at Heartland Studio Theatre
7016 N. Glenwood Ave.  (map)
Chicago, IL 60626
773-791-2393

Ouroboros Theatre Company
http://www.ouroborostheatre.com
When: May 28 : 8 p.m.
Sundays and Saturdays : 2 p.m. (ends June 7)
Fridays and Saturdays : 8 p.m. (ends June 7)

Price:  $20

Ouroboros Theatre Company’s mission and info after the fold.

Continue reading