‘Miracle on 34th Street’ is a heartwarmer at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts

Meredith Willson’s tune-filled musical, based on the classic film of the same name, is a seasonal treat that's fun for all ages.

To quote one of the catchy Meredith Willson lyrics from Miracle on 34th Street, The Musical: “That man over there is Santa Claus” and he can be found singing and charming audiences at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, just off of I-95 in Stafford County.

Now through December 31, Santa, aka Kris Kringle, is featured in this musical, based on the classic film, which is a tune-filled heartwarmer of a show that is fun for all ages.

Jim Lawson (Kris Kringle) and Catherine Mayers (Susan Walker) in ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ Photo by Suzzane Rossi.

Having made a huge splash on Broadway with his nostalgic valentine to small-town America, The Music Man (1957), Meredith Willson penned The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1960), followed by Here’s Love in 1963, holding out for a respectable eight-month run. Like many musical adaptations of the 1960s, Here’s Love did not adopt the title of its source material. (Remember Hello Dolly! was originally the play The Matchmaker.) The movie’s endearing popularity has swung the show’s title back to that of its movie source. Schools and theaters have rediscovered Willson’s musical adaptation as a lively holiday production, which is exactly what director Patrick A’Hearn and his team at Riverside Center offer up. Judging from the packed and appreciative house seen recently, audiences will be clamoring for a dose of this seasonal treat.

The story will be like comfort food to any fan of the original 1947 film: Macy’s employee Doris Walker, an independent, single mother, hires a likable gentleman to be the Santa in the annual parade and for the store. The affable and charming Kris Kringle bears a remarkable resemblance to the ideal image of St. Nick, coincidentally. Doris is raising her young daughter Susan to be practical and they both eschew believing in Santa. But even Susie is taken in by the jolly, bearded man wearing the red suit. Susan is also charmed by former Marine and soon-to-be lawyer Fred Gaily.

The Kringle plan to be generous and selfless during the holidays still figures in the plot, only this time it leads to a wonderful, Willson march, “Here’s Love!” (formerly the title song) led by Mr. Kringle who sweeps up the entire store in his joyous wake.

The romance between Doris and Fred percolates, just as little Susie wishes for a complete family and a house of their own. And the troubles that follow Kringle’s claims to be the “real” Santa still lead to a colorful trial where all roads lead to the determination that Kris is actually Santa.

While Willson’s score may not be filled with Broadway classics, the man could write a catchy tune. “Big Ca-lown Balloons” transforms into the Macy’s Parade. Kringle, lovingly played by Jim Lawson, warbles about “Pinecones and Hollyberries,” which is offered in counterpoint with Willson’s 1951 seasonal hit “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” sung here by the talented Elizabeth C. Butler as Doris.

TOP: Chris Zavadowski (Marvin Shellhammer), Elizabeth Butler (Doris Walker), and Jim Lawson (Kris Kringle); ABOVE: members of the ensemble (dance captain Stephanie Wood in blue dress) in ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ Photos by Suzzane Rossi.

Butler’s strong performance as Doris (Maureen O’Hara in the film) was showcased in ballad “You Don’t Know,” showing her protective streak for her daughter, and the duet-charm song “Arm in Arm,” performed effortlessly with young Catherine Mayers as Susan, the precocious yet endearing child. Mayers wraps the show around her little finger, along with Kevin Cleary’s Fred Gaily and Lawson’s Kringle.

The leading players are supported by Riverside stalwarts such as Ian Lane (R.H. Macy), Andrea Kahane (various secretaries), and the belter extraordinaire Kathy Halenda (in dual roles of the Macy’s psychologist and the judge who presides over the Kringle trial). Chris Zavadowski makes the most of his comedic turn as Doris’ assistant Mr. Shellhammer.

The entire cast is aided by A’Hearn’s creative staging and evocative projections by lighting designer Weston Corey, transporting the show to vintage NYC with style. Stephanie Wood’s choreography brings back memories of classic variety shows and the cast ensemble makes it look easy. Last but certainly not least, the music department is under the direction of David Landrum who leads an eight-person orchestra with aplomb.

The musical version of Miracle on 34th Street might not get the same play time as your average A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker, but with Meredith Willson’s tunes, a winning cast, and lively production, Riverside Center’s production of this holiday classic is sure to fill your stocking with pinecones and hollyberries.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one 20-minute intermission.

Meredith Willson’s Miracle on 34th Street, The Musical plays through December 31, 2023, at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA. Tickets are available online or through the box office 540-370-4300, open from 10 am to 6 pm, Mon.-Wed.; 10 am to 7:30 pm, Thu.-Fri; 12 pm to 7:30 pm, Sat.; 12 pm to 3 pm, Sun. Discounts are available for groups (for details click here).

Adult Dinner & Show – $75 (plus applicable taxes)
Seniors (65+) Dinner & Show – $70 (plus applicable taxes)
Adult Show Only – $60
Seniors (65+) Show Only – $55
Children (3-12) Show Only – $55
There will be a $5.00 online processing fee added per ticket.

COVID Safety: Staff wears masks when working the floor (meal-service portion). Patrons are not required to be masked in the facility; but if patrons want to wear a mask, they are welcome to.

Meredith Willson’s Miracle on 34th Street, The Musical
Book by Meredith Willson
Music and Lyrics by Meredith Willson
Based on the 20th Century Fox Picture of the same name, with story by Valentine Davies and screenplay by George Seaton


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