It’s all about believing. That’s the theme of Toby Dinner Theatre’s heartfelt, high-energy musical Miracle on 34th Street.
This musical adaptation of the 1947 film tells the story of a young girl who doubts Santa Claus exists until she is convinced by an eccentric, bearded old man who plays Santa for Macy’s Department Store. The movie version starred Natalie Wood and Maureen O’Hara. There’s a holiday light display in Baltimore devoted to it.
This show features a book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson and superb direction by Shawn Kettering. Choreographer Mark Minnick and Musical Director Ross Scott Rawlings also helped make this a memorable holiday gem.
The loveable and phenomenal Robert Biedermann played Kris Kringle magnificently. I consider him “Mr. Toby’s Dinner Theatre” with over 50 productions there. Biedermann typically offers pre-show announcements and laughable banter with birthday and anniversary honorees. His standout songs in this show were “Expect Things to Happen” and “Here’s Love.” He made me believe in his character and in the theme of belief.
The aforementioned young girl, Susan Walker, was played by Audrey Wolff, and her mother, Doris Walker — an executive at Macy’s — was played by Heather Marie Beck. The duo made for many memorable scenes. This was Wolff’s first Toby’s production. Wolff and Beck excelled in the upbeat “Arm in Arm.” Beck captured me with her rendition of “Love, Come Take Me Again.”
Helen Hayes nominee Jeffrey Shankle played Susan Walker’s love interest, lawyer Fred Gaily, who took on a case even Clarence Darrow would shun — proving the existence of Santa Claus aka Kris Kringle. I liked Shankle’s vocals in “My Wish,” “Look, Little Girl,” and the iconic “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” Shankle also had a wonderful duet with Wolff in “My Wish.”
There were too many delightful scenes to name in this show. The courtroom scene was ruled by David Bosley-Reynolds, who played Judge Martin Group. Reynolds was seen last Christmas season in Toby’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
Helen Hayes winner and Toby’s regular David James brought humor to Shellhammer. Shane Lowry, another Grease veteran, turned in a good performance as Mr. Sawyer. Lowry, also properties designer, helped build a fantastic sleigh for Kringle.
The cast, as is always the case at Toby’s, was good all around. I liked the performances of Patrick Gover (recently seen in Toby’s Grease) as Tammany O’Halloran, AJ Bassett as Henrika, Justin Calhoun as Thomas Mara, and Ezra Tornquist as his son Thomas Mara Jr.
David A. Hopkins’ scenic design configured set pieces in Toby’s theater-in-the-round. Much of the set consisted of simple, vintage furniture and scenery wagons, expertly flown in by the actors in the dark between scenes. Sarah King’s costume design evoked the late 1940s. I liked the suits she put Kringle in. The ladies in the show were dressed as quintessential dames.
Jayson Kueberth and Janine Sunday worked overtime on their wig designs. The Doris Walker character’s red wig screamed 1940s. There were multiple brunette wigs too. Big hair abounded.
The ensemble moved to precision in “Big Ca-Lown Balloons” and in other songs. This was thanks to Dance Captain Amanda Kaplan Landstrom.
Miracle on 34th Street will put you in a mood for Christmas and put a smile in your heart — the Grinch would fall in love with this show. In a musical suited for families, you’ll get food, songs, and holiday cheer. It has a positive message in a cynical world; as Kringle told us (as much as possible): “Everyone should love everyone.”
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes with a 20-minute intermission.
The menu is here.
The playbill is here.
Miracle on 34th Street
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Meredith Willson
Doris Walker: Heather Marie Beck
Susan Walker: Hazel Vogel or Audrey Wolff
Fred Gaily: Jeffrey Shankle
Kris Kringle: Robert Biedermann
Marvin Shellhammer: David James
R.H. Macy: Jordan B. Stockdale
Mr. Sawyer: Shane Lowry
Miss Crookshank: Valerie Adams Rigsbee
Judge Martin Group, Governor: David Bosley-Reynolds
Tammany O’Halloran, Mr. Gimbel: Patrick Gover
Thomas Mara, Mayor: Justin Calhoun
Alvin, Goldilocks: AJ Whittenberger
Whitey, Bailiff: Ryan Sellers
Clara: MaryKate Brouillet
Miss Simms: Brooke Bloomquist
Mrs. Finfer: Lydia Gifford
Sherry Finfer: Julia Ballenger or Gwyneth Porter
Henrika: AJ Bassett or Jordyn Polk
Thomas Mara Jr.: Dylan Iwanczuk or Ezra Tornquist
Girl Scout: Amanda Kaplan Landstrom
Adult Ensemble: Valerie Adams Rigsbee, Brooke Bloomquist, David Bosley-Reynolds, MaryKate Brouillet, Justin Calhoun, Lydia Gifford, Patrick Gover, Amanda Kaplan Landstrom, Shane Lowry, Ryan Sellers, AJ Whittenberger
Young Adult Ensemble: Julia Ballenger or Skyler Smelkinson; AJ Bassett or Jordyn Polk; Dylan Iwanczuk or Ezra Tornquist; Gwyneth Porter
Understudies: MaryKate Brouillet, Fred: Justin Calhoun Kris Kringle: Shawn Kettering, R.H. Macy: David Bosley-Reynolds Thomas Mara: Patrick Gover, Female Swing: Christen Svingos Shellhammer/Tammany/Judge Martin/Male Swing: Dustin Perrott
ARTISTIC AND CREATIVE TEAM
Director: Shawn Kettering
Choreography: Mark Minnick
Musical Director/Conductor: Ross Scott Rawlings
Assistant Conductor: Nathan Scavilla
Scenic Design/Associate Artistic Director: David A. Hopkins
Lighting Design: Lynn Joslin
Sound Design: Mark Smedley
Costume Design: Sarah King
Wig Design: Jayson Kueberth, Janine Sunday
Properties Designer: Shane Lowry
Dance Captain: Amanda Kaplan Landstrom
Conductor/Keyboard I: Ross Scott Rawlings, Nathan Scavilla
Keyboard II: Reenie Codelka, Catina McLagan, and Ann Prizzi
Reeds/Woodwinds: Steve Haaser, Charlene McDaniel, and Katie Ravenwood
Trumpet: Mike Barber, Tony Neenan
Trombone: Patrick Crossland, Jay Ellis, and Don Patterson
Drums/Percussion: Bob LaForce, Brett Schatz