Miracle on 34th Street the Musical is playing at Seven Angels in Waterbury until after Christmas for a whopping 25 performances. A collaboration between community theatre people (yes, I gave them top billing) and professional performers, this show is the real deal. Believe it.
I heard James Donohue, the actor who admitted that he was type cast to play the role of Marvin Shellhammer, talk about the production on Backstage with Johnny O. (Click to listen to the podcast of the show.) He mentioned that there was a preview matinee that afternoon, so I decided to go see it. The cast of the show had performed at Macy's in the Brass City Mall and the store had decorated the lobby of Seven Angels beautifully for Christmas. There was also a Macy's Friends and Family discount card included in each program.
Semina DeLaurentis introduced WATR's Tom Chute for a preview before the preview. He warmed up the crowd with two numbers, one of which was written by the Musical Director Richard DeRosa. Then Mr. Chute left the stage to prepare for his role as D.A. Thomas Mara.
Kris Kringle takes on the cynics among us in this holiday favorite spreading a wave of love throughout New York 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. Filled with humor and such beloved songs as “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” and "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You," this joyous, heart-warming musical is pure family entertainment and the perfect holiday theatrical treat!
Faithful readers will not be surprised that this was another movie I hadn't seen, so I enjoyed following this heartwarming tale. The opening number is a faithful reproduction of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade as it was in 1948; I loved watching Chuck Stango's portrayal of a balloon guide. The next big number was "Here's Love," the original title of this show, and included Santa speaking Dutch to a young girl. I also especially enjoyed "That Man Over There" that took place in the court room.
This large cast was even more impressive than the absolutely beautiful costumes by Jimmy Johansmeyer and the lovely set by the talented Erik D. Diaz. (Check the photos to see how sumptuous the ladies' dresses are.) They are a mixture of familiar community theatre people as well as some familiar professionals; many played multiple roles and all made the most out of small ones. Directed by Ms. DeLaurentis and choreographed by Janine Molinari, they worked together seamlessly and one might be hard-pressed to pick out the newbies.
Some standouts in no particular order include the beautiful Sydney Taylor Turner (Alice in Teddy & Alice) and Billy Hannon, Jr. as Fred. Adrienne Camm was amazing at switching accents for her many characters and Jonathan Ross (another Teddy & Alice alum) plays R.H. Macy until Dec. 23. Waterbury resident Gary Rosengrant, who I have had the pleasure of seeing in many a Seven Angels production, is also wonderful here in several comic roles.
The cherubic Timothy Cleary (Teddy & Alice, It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, Rumors) is perfect for the important role of Kris Kringle and his white beard IS real. I never get tired of seeing Mr. Donohue (Teddy & Alice, Meredith Willson's The Music Man, Putnam County) and his patter song "Plastic Alligators" was lots of fun. Cassie Taylor (Teddy & Alice) was lovely as Doris Walker, the cynical mom and her daughter Susan was played by adorable twins Kaitlyn and Kirstianna Mueller.
Woodland senior Eric Gomez (Once on this Island) plays several roles here with aplomb and Hillside Intermediate fifth grader Lauren Rupsis is a dancer making her acting debut here. The aforementioned Mr. Stango (Teddy & Alice, Music Man and much more) in a ridiculous wig is hysterical as Bartholomew Sawyer and anything else he does onstage. Of course, Mr. Chute is wonderful as the D.A. (oddly one role that the lawyer Mr. Stango did not do.) Finally, the impossibly cute, seven year old Alexander Dante Butler just about steals any scene he is in, as does Grace Rundhaug (Molly in Annie) as the Dutch Hendrika.
The small band led by Mr. DeRosa included the talented TJ Thompson on synthesizer and WAMS principal Leo Lavallee on trumpet. The cramped pit in the corner of the theater required drummer Mark Ryan to stand up in order to play the timpani; perhaps only the mother of a percussion player would notice this.
I found this show to be exactly what the director promised, "a classic, beloved story of kindness, love and the true spirit of Christmas." When it wasn't making me laugh, it was warming my heart. Go see one of the numerous remaining performances.