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

     
     

     
     

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REVIEW: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (Lifeline)

 

Fun for kids of all ages

 

 Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  006

   
Lifeline Theatre presents
 
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type
  

Adapted by James E. Grote
Music by George Howe
Directed by
Shole Milos
at
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
through December 5  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I had my favorite associate reviewers with me for the Lifeline Theatre’s production of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. My niece Lexi and my nephew David are great barometers of what is funny without the filters of adulthood. Fortunately, this excellent show was a gem of comic timing and great music – even as I wear my grownup glasses.

Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  004 The story is simple and universal. Cow 1, Cow 2, Hen, and Duck want better accommodations. The cows and the hen are freezing their respective hides and feathers off in the barn. Duck is bored with the lily pad and wants to spice up his pond. The animals have a barrier in communicating with Farmer Brown and then the hilarity ensues.

Understudy Mallory Nees, who was fabulous in The Blue Shadow (our review ★★★), also at Lifeline, played Cow 1. She is the more logical of the cows and tries to find a sensible way to get through to farmer Brown. Lakhiyia Hicks plays the role of Cow 2. Her character wants to give Farmer Brown a knuckle sandwich until Hen reminds her that she doesn’t have traditional knuckles. Christina Hall plays hen with great aplomb and gleefulness. Hicks and Hall have a wonderful banter about chicken breath and cow mouth that had the audience in stitches. Yes, it’s juvenile. But it’s funny!

Ryotaro Shigeta plays the role of diplomatic Duck. Shigeta is charming and ebullient in the role. Duck has a great secret weapon in the super high definition remote control that drops from the ceiling. The remote allows us to translate cow, hen, and duck talk. It also rewinds the characters and pauses. Derek Czaplewski plays the hapless Farmer Brown who lives the sounds of the farm and is greatly disturbed when the animals become revolutionaries for warmth in the barn.

Farmer Brown makes the mistake of storing some old books and a typewriter in the barn where the animals live. Cow 2 sees that the books are by Karl Marx, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, and George Orwell. She is called to revolution and wants to get Farmer Brown off of the farm so that the animals can take over like in Orwell’s book. Cow 1 tells her to read the whole story because it might not be as great as that seems. It’s a great lesson for kids in getting the whole story and communicating so that everyone involved can understand. It’s funny on an adult level because we know how Orwell turns out. It’s funny on a kid level because Cow 2 is just funny pumping her fist in the air and declaring ‘power to the animals!’

 

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Hall’s hen is really sweet as she wonders what happens to her eggs. It is another great lesson in knowing your worth and the value of your work for children.

The musical numbers are smooth and well choreographed. The song ‘An Electric Blanket Looks Like Home’ is done in 60’s girl group style. The music is cool and the dance moves are worthy of a Supreme or Vandella.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type is from a series by author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Betsy Lewin. It is in the series that Lifeline has continued from Dooby Dooby Moo, and Duck for President.

Illustrator Lewin was on hand to sign the books on Sunday and the cast was most accommodating in signing autographs in person. Once again, Lifeline has done a stellar job of bringing the theater experience to people of all ages. I am a firm believer that children should be exposed to the theater more than the movies. There is real magic in this production. It is the magic that allows a child’s mind to roam in  imagination rather than be stifled and homogenized by impossible special effects. Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  004Lexi and David gave it their definite seal of approval. This miracle came in the form of one full hour of rapt focus and laughter.

Of course it should be said that David has deemed me the best auntie in the world. That is a comment that one doesn’t hear often and it isn’t doled out all willy-nilly.

They loved the brightly colored set, the great music, and dancing. Most of all, they love the theater experience in our own backyard of Rogers Park. It is a cool thing to read about something on your oat O’s box and then to see it live. Kudos to Lifeline for an amazing and fun show that shows the value of follow-through, problem solving, and cooperation. The play is an hour long and will hold your child’s attention as well as yours. I recommend this play even if you don’t have a grade school kid to take along. The double entendre is more than worthy for a laugh and memories of urban studies or political science classes. Come on and raise a hoof for a warm barn and bovine rights!

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
     
     

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Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type runs on Saturdays at 1:00pm and Sundays at 11am and 1pm through December 4th at Lifeline Theatre. The theatre is located at 6912 N. Glenwood in Rogers Park USA. Visit www.lifelinetheatre.com for more information. Moo!

 

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Review: Porchlight’s “Miracle on 34th Street”

A Retro Christmas Miracle

 

Porchlight Music Theatre presents:

Miracle on 34th Street

Adapted by Patricia DiBenedetto Snyder, Sill Severin and John Vreeke

Story by Valentine Davies
Screenplay by George Seaton
directed by
L. Walter Stearns
thru January 3rd, 2010 (ticket info)

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

MIRACLE ON 34th STREET--Santa and Susan I have to admit to a bit of “Scrooge-ism” when it comes to the holiday season in America. The commercials, the billboards, the store windows dressed in fiberglass snow and plaid carolers when I am still finishing Halloween candy stuffed in the bottom desk drawer- you get the idea. I managed to get into the spirit in spite of myself. I got a visit from a little angel in the form of my niece Alexandria. She is a very precocious seven years old who likes spiders. Porchlight Theatre’s publicity for Miracle on 34th Street stated that this was the perfect first theater experience for children and would become a holiday tradition. I am happy to say that the publicity was right.

This production of Miracle on 34th Street is from the Porchlight Music Theatre Company. They are known for classic productions as well as new interpretations of musicals. This is already a classic film and now it has been excellently translated to the stage. The moment that Kris Kringle’s sleigh appears on the stage is when the magic begins. A veritable toyland pops out of Santa’s big red sack and performs to start the play. We are then told that this Santa is a lucky replacement for the other guy who showed up drunk. The twist is that this Santa believes that he is the real thing. It is a tale that we all know from afternoons around the television or at the repertory movie house.

Christa Buck plays the cynical 1940’s career woman Doris Walker. She is all business and doesn’t have time for the fantasy that is Christmas. She also has little patience for the complications of romance that shows up in the form of Fred Gailey played by Karl Hamilton. They both seem to have stepped out of a Technicolor production. The entire cast is a step back in time and that is perfect for this production. The cynicism of Doris Walker and her daughter Susan is born out of divorce and abandonment issues. That is my modern interpretation but the portrayals are embodied with the post-war innocence of the 1940’s. Somehow everything works out in America if you only believe. It’s a beautiful idea whose time is coming around again. The part of Susan Walker is played by Laney Kraus-Taddeo. She is another talented product of the Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston. Ms. Kraus-Taddeo doesn’t hit any false notes or project any of the treacle that is the risk of any child actors. All of the children in this production are a delight to watch. The play makes room for a child in the audience to talk to Santa on stage. It was a funny moment with an untrained participant who asked for Christmas lipstick. Your guess is as good as mine as to what that is but Jim Sherman as Kris Kringle played right along with jolly humor.

I have to say that it was the performance of Jim Sherman that really put me in the Christmas spirit. He has the sparkle and the charm that – for me – embody Santa Claus. He wears a suit that is more in the tradition of Father Christmas or Sinter Klass from the Netherlands. Even when he was clad in layperson’s attire he looked like Santa. I also enjoyed the character of Mr. Macy played by Chuck Sisson. I’m a girl who grew up on Mr. Drysdale, Mr. Mooney, and Thurston Howell III. There is a certain carriage and technique to carrying off the bluster of such a character in my opinion and Mr. Sisson has it much to my enjoyment.

The entire cast is a joy to watch in Miracle on 34th Street. The supporting villain character of Mr. Sawyer is played with relish by Rus Rainear. Like the movie, Mr. Sawyer is a ferret-like guy who almost kills Christmas while in cahoots with the ambitious District Attorney played by Steve Tomlitz.

Suspense! Romance! Knee Slapping Laughs! It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Most importantly, it passed the “Alexandria Test”. My niece Alexandria was enchanted the moment the action began. That is saying something considering that we had been to Uncle Fun and bought a “can of salted nuts” which contained three fake snakes. Lexie was all about the snakes until Kris Kringle and the music began. She also got to take a picture with Santa on the stage after the play that was a big thrill. “Auntie Kathy! I got to see Santa Claus and be on the stage!”

You have to bring your own camera and resist the urge to want to sit on Jim Sherman’s lap yourself. I’m telling you, the guy took me back to 1965 when I really believed.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

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