By Erika Brown Thomas
The classic holiday film, Miracle on 34th Street is brought to the stage by a talented cast under the capable direction of Linda Fortunato at Munster’s Theatre at the Center.
Adapted for the theatrical stage by Meredith Wilson, most famous for The Music Man, this show from 1963 is mostly sweet and sentimental, but at times flounders through blatantly sexist material which exists solely in the musical stage version. Perhaps not enough that people can’t enjoy the show, but there are more than several lines and numbers (non-existent in the movie) that need to go, as they are antiquated and not in a charming way.
A full plot synopsis of this stage version may be read here.
Neil Friedman, however, is completely charming and charismatic as beloved Kris Kringle. From beard to boot, Friedman is Santa Claus – with a booming baritone and laugh beyond perfection!
Stella Rose Hoyt plays Susan, a pragmatic, Santa Claus non-believer. It is truly a joy to see imagination creep slowly and steadily into her life. Hoyt sings wonderfully and demonstrates a beautiful growth of character throughout this production.
Doris (Courtney Jones) and Fred (Christopher Kale Jones) are neighbors who clash at first and ultimately fall in love in spite of their differences – an utterly romantic storyline cliché that nonetheless gets us to the happy ending we all know and love. Both actors are masterful singers and have the styles of the time down pat.
Dan Klarer makes a standout performance as the dedicated and ardent Macy’s employee, Mr. Shellhammer. With comedic jingles and shtick galore, Klarer brings animation and energy to every scene.
And Liliana Rene portrays the little Dutch girl, Hendrika, with such sweetness – this scene can melt any Christmas humbug’s icy heart!
Theatre at the Center has created a wonderful production despite dated imperfections in the theatrical script. This cast and production team definitely deserve praise for their hard work.
“Miracle on 34th Street” plays through December 23rd at Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road Munster, IN . More information and tickets are available here.