REVIEW: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (Steel Beam)

        
        

No miracle in Christmas movie makeover

  
  

its beginning will nifong

  
Steel Beam Theatre presents
   
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
  
By Meredith Willson
Directed by
Donna Steele
Steel Beam Theatre, 111 W. Main, St. Charles (map)
Through Dec. 19 |  
Tickets: $23-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Christmas, for many, is all about tradition. Familiar holiday rituals, from the Christmas dinner menu to the ornaments on the tree to time-honored Christmas carols and, yes, those old movies you watch on television every year. That’s why so many theaters play it safe with holiday shows adapted from the same old stuff.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas is another one: the plot of the 1947 Oscar-winning film "Miracle on 34th Street" re-imagined as a stage musical. Steel Beam Theatre’s earnest production offers a big cast full of cute kids and highly attractive adults, and I wish I could say this live show offered better Christmas entertainment than staying home with a bowl of popcorn and watching the movie on TV, but I can’t.

it's beginning 2The familiar Christmas story follows young Susan Walker, who is being reared by her divorced and disillusioned mother, Doris, in a no-nonsense way that doesn’t include believing in Santa Claus. Their comforting pragmatism becomes shaken by Fred Gaily, the ex-marine turned attorney next door , and a bearded fellow who calls himself Kris Kringle, who shocks New York by telling Macy’s customers to shop at Gimbel’s.

The concept, from composer and adapter Meredith Willson, the man behind The Music Man, ought to have a lot of potential. It includes, among other things, a complete Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on stage.

Alas, this is no Music Man, and little about Willson’s score adds to the movie’s story. Few of the songs will leave you humming, and a couple are downright painful. The compacting and stylization necessary to fit the music into a stage-length show robs the plot of spice and leaves it cloying. Elements like a grown man, unknown to her mother, squiring around a little girl and a chauvinistic song about how long it takes a woman to ready herself to go out seem badly dated.

Originally called Here’s Love, the musical opened on Broadway in 1963 and ran less than a year. Its latter-day title change explains why, rather than being central, the show’s namesake tune, Willson’s famous "It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," written in 1951, gets medley treatment. Blended into something called "Pinecones and Holly Berries," it’s one of the better musical numbers, especially in its first iteration with a dance sequence performed by Jamey McDunn as Kris Kringle, Amy Steele as Doris Walker and Will Nifong as Marvin Shellhammer, a Macy’s marketing assistant.

Nifong’s wonderfully comic performance, here and throughout, forms a principal highlight of the show. This number also constitutes one of the brighter spots in Cynthia Hall‘s largely lackluster choreography.

The very pretty Amy Steele sparkles as Doris, but wobbles some in the vocals. A stalwart, smooth-voiced Greg Zawada portrays Fred, while McDunn’s perfect Santa Claus appearance is marred by a curiously tentative and soft-voiced performance. Lauren Freas did a charming job as Susan the day I saw the show; she’s spelled in alternating performances by Christina Zaeske.

Kara Blasingame is sweet as a little Dutch girl, alternating with Kathleen Miulli. Dean Dranias makes a stiff R.H. Macy. Adoniss Hutcheson, alternating with Mikey Taylor; and August Anderson; Brian Burch; Terry A. Christiansen; Haleigh Hutchinson; Andrew Kepka; Katie Meyers; Amy Moczygemba; and Emily Whaley fill out the ensemble.

The centerpiece of the second act comes in a zanily inane number, "My State, My Kansas," which has so little to do with the storyline that it recalls the quirky "Hernando’s Hideaway" of The Pajama Game.  Sadly, it isn’t nearly so good a song as that, though this production points it up with a fun banjo solo by Gary Patterson, playing the judge in Kris Kringle’s insanity trial.

The cast, colorfully clad in Kim Maslo’s nice costumes, clearly has a great time and tries hard. But weak singers exacerbate the score’s dullness. A five-piece orchestra, borne up largely by trumpeter John Evans, does its best to support the vocals but sometimes overwhelms them. Overall, Director Donna Steele’s production fails to give us the pageantry and grandeur necessary to make a parade full of "Big Clown Balloons" come alive.

   
  
Rating: ★★
   
  

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REVIEW: The Music Man (Marriott Theatre)

         
        

Iowa Splendid

 

 

Bernie Yvon and Danny Coonley in The Music Man - Marriott Theatre

    
Marriott Theatre presents
   
The Music Man
   
Book/Music/Lyrics by Meredith Willson
Directed by
Gary Griffin
at
Marriott Theatre, Linconshire (map)
through Jan 9  |  tickets: $40-$48  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

For reasons we can only guess at, Marriott Theatre has picked it for their holiday offering. But if ever a show spelled out summer, it’s Meredith Willson‘s 1957 masterpiece The Music Man. Throughout the rollicking story the title character exudes sunny optimism, a flimflam that "Professor" Harold Hill wants to believe as much as the suckers who take it in. His buoyant drive fits the season like a picnic. You’ll forget about the winter completely over the next 150 minutes.

Johanna McKenzie Miller and Bernie Yvon in The Music Man - Marriott TheatreOf course Hill is a 1912 confidence man who hornswaggles a ragtag band into playing music, a shy boy into speaking, a town into believing in itself and a librarian into love. The sturdy story is perfectly embedded in a very particular time capsule, with Willson meticulously employing with glorious abandon assorted slang, celebrities and colorful metaphors from the era and the state.

Helping this miracle worker Hill cast his spell, Willson gives him such powerful persuasion as "Seventy-Six Trombones" and "Trouble," the famous snake-oil sermon. By the musical’s end Hill has sold far more than he knows, a passel of dreams for River City to grow on. It’s a great formula: A mysterious stranger comes to town and changes everyone for the best, including himself when he realizes that what he gives is worth far more than what he sells.

Few shows strike such a shrewd balance between downhome decency and showbiz savvy. Because The Music Man wears its songs on its sleeve, it can’t seem too slick or smooth. What matters is the tender loving care.

The heart comes through like a charm in Marriott Theatre’s easy-winning, arena revival. Intimately homespun yet always knowing, Gary Griffin’s staging trusts the material, Willson’s fast-moving book, deceptively clever lyrics and unimprovable melodies–and gets them right throughout.

The look, for instance: Tom Ryan‘s clever, flexible and detailed set pieces combine to create a richly nostalgic Iowa setting, and Nancy Missimi’s fashionplate period costumes complete the illusion.

The human illusions are equally on target. Conning with unforced charm, Bernie Yvon offers a Harold Hill who listens as much as hoodwinks; like a good salesman he connects with the townsfolk until you see how much he means it. His charm is non-negotiable, though the changes he undergoes are a bit harder to measure under Yvon’s boundless confidence.

Barbara Cook and Shirley Jones notwithstanding (comparisons are odious), Johanna McKenzie Miller nicely inhabits Marian’s rich mix of spinster standoffishness and idealistic yearning. Her "Till There Was You" is earned by every line she’s said. (The fact that she also sounds just like Cook in her perfect prime doesn’t hurt in the least either.)

The cast of The Music Man - Marriott Theatre 2

Johnny Rabe and Danny Coonley in The Music Man - Marriott Theatre Johanna McKenzie Miller and Bernie Yvon in The Music Man - Marriott Theatre 3

Like the leads, the supporting roles betray much more life than art, even the hammy stock roles like John Reeger‘s pompous mayor, Iris Lieberman as his starched-blouse wife, Mary Ernster as Marian’s matchmaking mother and Andy Lupp as Hill’s gleeful trickster accomplice.

As the decent local kids whom Harold helps, Adrian Aguilar and Amanda Tanguay carry the romantic subplot with goofy grace. Special credit goes to little Johnny Rabe whose bashful Winthrop wails out "Gary, Indiana" as if he just made it up.

Finally, Matt Raftery‘s unshowy choreography reminds us that these are unpretentious Iowans whooping it up as best they can: There’s no showoff hoofing here. The “Shipoopi” explodes with prewar pep and a palpable joy that makes the most difficult dancing seem a gift to perform as much as perceive. David Kreppel’s musical direction is assured, especially in the barbershop-quartet offerings.

 

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
 
 

The performance schedule is Wednesdays at 1pm and 8pm, Thursday and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4:30pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 5pm.  There will be an added performance Tuesday, 11/23 at 8pm and Friday, 11/26 at 4:30pm.  No performances Tuesday-Thursday, Nov 24th and 25th.

The cast of The Music Man - Marriott Theatre

 

 

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Theatre at the Center announces 2010 season

theatreatcenter2

In celebration of the 20th Season (!)

Theatre at the Center’s announces their 2010 Season

Coming off of a streak of some of the most successful seasons to date, William Pullinsi, Artistic Director, has announced Theatre at the Center’s 20th anniversary season, filled with some of the most popular productions of all time, as well as an area premiere. All of the 2010 season titles have marked, and will mark, a “first” for the history of Theatre at the Center. This 20-year anniversary milestone will be celebrated as a “season of firsts,” with some of the most celebrated titles in Theatre at the Center’s history:

Noises Off
February 19 – March 21, 2010

“The Funniest Farce Ever Written” is how the New York critics described the awesome hilarity and mind-boggling mayhem of Noises Off.  This uproarious comedy will run February 19 through March 21, with press performance on February 25. Noises Off follows the on and off stage antics of an inept acting troupe as they stumble from bumbling dress rehearsal to disastrous closing night.  Everything that can go wrong does, as actors desperately try to hang on to their lines, their performances, and the furniture.  Add a slippery plate of sardines and a slew of slamming doors and you have the most sidesplitting backstage comedy ever put on paper.

I Do! I Do!
April 22 through May 23, 2010 

I Do! I Do! was the first two-person musical ever performed on Broadway, written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, the creative duo behind The Fantasticks and 110 In the Shade. This remarkably intimate, thoroughly romantic piece, allows audiences into the bedroom of Agnes and Michael, as they try to maintain passion and devotion through the joys and pains, trials and tribulations, setbacks and celebrations of their fifty year marital odyssey. In that time we watch them go through their wedding night jitters, raise a family, negotiate mid-life crises, quarrel, separate, reconcile and grow old together, all lovingly to the strains of a tuneful, charming score which includes the standard "My Cup Runneth Over." I Do! I Do! runs April 22 through May 23 and the press performance will be April 29.

Jesus Christ Superstar
July 8 – August 8, 2010

Jesus Chris Superstar, the groundbreaking theatrical masterpiece by legendary writing team Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, will run July 8 through August 8 with a press performance on July 15. The first collaboration between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to be performed on the professional stage, Jesus Christ Superstar illuminates the transcendent power of the human spirit with a passion that goes straight to the heart. The production features a stirring score including “Superstar”, “Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him. In Jesus Christ Superstar, Jesus is portrayed as a prophet / rock star whose appeal stems as much from the crowd’s energy as from his own inspirational message. Jesus’ meteor-like rise in renown provides, as the title suggests, a parallel to contemporary celebrity worship. As his radical teachings are evermore embraced, Judas increasingly questions the enlightened motives of this new prophet, resulting in betrayal. In this production, Christ’s final days are dramatized with emotional intensity, thought-provoking edge and explosive theatricality.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
September 9 – October 10, 2010

Based on the popular 1988 MGM film, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels centers on two con men living on the French Riviera – the suave and sophisticated Lawrence Jameson, who makes his lavish living by talking rich ladies out of their money; and a small-time crook named Freddy Benson, who, more humbly, swindles women by waking their compassion with fabricated stories about his grandmother’s failing health. After meeting on a train, they unsuccessfully attempt to work together only to find that this small French town isn’t big enough for the two of them. So they make a bet: the first one to swindle $50,000 from a young heiress, triumphs and the other must leave town. What follows are a series of schemes, masquerades and double-crosses in which nothing may ever be exactly what it seems. This Tony Award winning musical will run September 9 through October 10. The press performance will be September 16.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
November 11 – December 12, 2010

Kris Kringle takes on the cynics among us in It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, a musical adaptation of the popular holiday favorite “Miracle on 34th Street ”. In his inimitable style, Meredith Willson, the author of The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, tells the classic story of a white-bearded gentleman claiming to be the real Santa Claus as he brings about a genuine Miracle on 34th Street . Spreading a wave of love throughout New York City , this man inspires the city, fostering camaraderie between Macy’s and Gimbel’s Department Stores and convincing a divorced, cynical single mother, her somber daughter and the entire state of New York that Santa Claus is no myth. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas runs November 11 through December 12, with the press performance on November 18.

Founded in 1991, Theatre at the Center is a year-round professional theater at its home, The Center for Visual and Performing Arts, 1040 Ridge Road , Munster , Indiana .  Theatre at the Center is conveniently located off I-80/94, just 35 minutes from downtown Chicago . 

theatreatcenterSeason subscriptions to all of these timeless classics are available for $125 and will go on sale September 29, 2009 . New for this season will be subscription series events. The first of these events, the Wine and Theatre Series, will allow guests to enjoy delectable wines from all over the world at Theatre at the Center’s home, the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts. An assortment of hors d’oeuvres will be served to compliment the wines. This Wine and Theatre Series can be conveniently added to season subscriptions for $75. The second, the Opening Night Series, guarantees subscribers the best seats for opening nights. Each show will be followed with a post-show reception with the cast and crew. This Opening Night Series can be added to the subscription for only $100. Finally, the Dinner Theatre series may be added to any subscription for only $105.25. Guests may enjoy pre-show special dinners conveniently located in The Center for Visual and Performing Arts, right across from the theatre lobby. To purchase season tickets, individual tickets call the Box Office at 219.836.3255 or Tickets.com at 800.511.1552.  Group discounts, available for groups of 20 or more; and gift certificates, perfect for all special occasions are also available by calling the Box Office at 219.836.3255 . For more information on Theatre at the Center, visit TheatreAtTheCenter.com. Map below – click map for larger view: