‘Miracle on 34th Street’ from Croswell Opera House
Most years for a long time now, one of the things that has helped kick off the holiday season for Adrian is that the Croswell Opera House is putting on a family musical, whether it’s specifically about Christmas or not.
Last year, for example, it was “A Christmas Story”. This year, another of those classic holiday favorites became a musical: “Miracle on 34th Street.”
Turning a movie into a live show sometimes works better than others. Adding music where none existed in the original story can also be tricky. But on both counts, songwriter and writer Meredith Willson — best known for “The Music Man” — did pretty well.
The stage version of the much-loved 1947 film expands on some of the character roles and further expands the various relationships, especially that of little Susan Walker and Kris Kringle, the man who claims to be Santa Claus. And Willson’s songs, while I can’t say they stick in your head like some of his work for “The Music Man” does, generally fit into the context of the story.
For the most part, at least. The patter song Willson wrote for “The Music Man,” “Rock Island,” is terrific. The one he wrote for this show, “Plastic Alligators,” just doesn’t really seem to work.
On the other hand, “Miracle on 34th Street” also has really cute ballads like “Love, Come Take Me Again” and lots of fun tunes and production numbers, including a version of Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and toys that come to life at Macy’s. toy department.
In that parade sequence, by the way, a big shout out to Adrian Mayor Angie Heath, who dusts off some pretty amazing baton skills and seems to be having the best time on stage. On top of that, she briefly introduces herself as the mayor of New York, which is a cute touch.
There are all sorts of reasons why Willson’s version of the story, which he originally titled “Here’s Love”, didn’t really impress the theatrical world in 1963 when it premiered. I think, for example, the storytelling is uneven, and some of the stuff done to fill out the plot kind of seems to fall off.
But it has all the heart of the original film, and it’s everything you could want in a family show for this time of year.
The musical is set in the 1947 time frame of the film, giving it all the nostalgic feel of a simpler age. And Croswell’s production, co-directed by Stephen Kiersey and John MacNaughton, does a good job of recreating that old-world feel. Their work allows the story to breathe, without ever getting bogged down and preserving the lightness and heart of the plot.
Mark Hyre is reprising his role as Kris from the last time Croswell produced the show (10 years ago), and he’s even better this time than he was then. Perfect in his portrayal of the man who just might be Santa Claus, he gives the character an appealing warmth and even a joy that makes Kris’ relationship with Susan particularly charming.
Now, about the girl who plays Susan, Alayna Brazzil: my word, what a beautiful young actress she is.
Without a doubt, she is a real presence on the Croswell stage. This is of course a major role for any youngster, and Brazzil wins with absolute poise. She brings a kind of wide-eyed wonder to her version of Susan, and she’s so solid and so delightful in the role.
Susan’s mother, Doris, is played by another newcomer to the Croswell scene, albeit someone with a whole slew of other acting credits: Cristina Pellerano. Pellerano is a major addition to the Croswell family; she’s terrific in that part and when it comes to the often tricky vocals in Doris’ ballads, she completely nails them.
The role of Fred is tailor-made for Joe Dennehy, who cannot show off his dancing skills in this show as he has in so many other productions, but, despite everything, this kind of classic male character from the 1940 really works. for his looks, his vocal skills and his general way of acting. Plus, his scenes with Brazzil are warm and charming, as he and Pellerano play well in the often awkward, oil-and-water nature of Doris and Fred’s early interactions.
As for the series’ other named roles, particularly nice work comes from Gabriel Ebeling as Doris, usually on the edge of a fusion wizard, Mr. Shellhammer, and Peter Kentes as RH Macy, Mark Schersten as Judge Harper (one of several actors doing double-duty or more in this production, he also plays Drunk Santa), and Chris Martin as O’Halloran.
Kiersey and MacNaughton went out of their way to give this show the 1940s vibe, and they created clever ways to keep the action going, especially from scene to scene. With them, the show never gets bogged down and always preserves the frothy lightness of the plot.
Crosby Slupe and Marty Flake’s stage design is relatively minimalist when it comes to many Croswell shows, but it fits its purpose both in terms of staging each scene and maintaining the overall pace of the production.
As musical director, Ray Novak leads the pit orchestra flawlessly through everything from big, brassy parade music that, given its composer, sounds like places like “76 Trombones” is about to erupt. , to the beautiful ballads of Willson. And with all the orchestral color in this show, the orchestra itself is definitely put to the test and does it very well.
Costume designer Pam Krage does a great job outfitting the cast in a cute vintage look. The fact that Fred is identified early on as a former Navy captain, but shows up in a uniform with sergeant stripes, is a minor issue; the costumes in this production are a major tour de force requiring everything from 1940s costumes, dresses and children’s clothing to toys that come to life, not to mention the many actors playing multiple roles, and the work of Krage is first order.
“Miracle on 34th Street,” the original film, has a well-deserved place in the pantheon of Christmas classics. The musical version, on the whole, while yes it can be a bit overloaded, still does a good job of capturing the magic of the story and all those warm holiday fuzziness. And Croswell’s production is a heartwarming, nostalgic show that’s a perfect way for the whole family to start the Christmas season.
If you are going to
WHAT: “Miracle on the 34the Street”
WHERE: Croswell Opera House, 129 E. Maumee St., Adrian
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, November 20; 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 25; 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 26; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, November 27; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, December 1; 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 3; and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 4. No performance on December 2
TICKETS: $$20-40 for adults, $15-25 for students
HOW TO ORDER: Online at croswell.org or by calling 517-264-7469