Turning a beloved film into a musical isn’t easy – certain themes are hard to translate into song, and people notice when lines and entire scenes are cut to make room for these songs.
Miracle on 34th Street is a powerful story. Adapted from the 1947 film into a musical by Meredith Willson in 1963, it tells the story of Susan and her divorced mother, Doris, who only believes what can be proven true. After meeting a man who claims to be Santa Claus, their steadfast beliefs begin to unravel.
Despite an inarguably talented and hard-working cast at Toby’s, a musical production can only shine as much as its book and score allows. Meredith Willson’s adaption falls short. Turning a film into a musical is more complicated than cutting lines and adding songs.
Consumerism, raw innocence, releasing your heart along with your logic, and believing and finding life in the impossible are all themes found in the original film. Willson’s adaption not only ignores these themes, but works against them. Showstoppers like “That Man Over There” and “My State, My Kansas” come at inappropriate times and turn a moving story into a screwball comedy. Rushed and awkward pacing in the book doesn’t help.
Despite subpar material, the cast is flawless: Jeffrey Shankle is breathtaking as Fred Gaily, especially in “My Wish,” a duet with young Susan (played with promise by Sadie Herman) while moving in opposite directions on a swing set. Heather Marie Beck compliments him well as the headstrong and commanding Doris Walker, sounding like a modern and grittier Doris Day. Lawrence B. Munsey shows off a resonant full sound as R.H. Macy.
Another standout is Darren McDonnell, showing flair for physical comedy as Doris’s assistant Marvin Shellhammer in “Plastic Alligator.” The young Hendrika is lovely and adorable singing in Dutch, and the ensemble is consistently outstanding. Mark Minnick’s choreography for “She Hadda Go Back” is fun and inventive – the music itself is the only glimpse of the Meredith Willson we know and love from The Music Man. The only weak link is the orchestra, which sounded off more than a few times.
Miracle on 34th Street
Closes January 5, 2013
Toby’s Dinner Theatre – Columbia
5900 Synmphony Woods Road
2 hours, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $37 – $56 (includes dinner or brunch)
Wednesdays thru Sundays
The production’s appearance is impressive: Lawrence B. Munsey’s costumes are fabulous from the spectator pumps to the felt pink hat, and David A. Hopkins’s set brings maximum extravagance to the small space with trees, candles, nutcrackers, and Christmas galore.
Perhaps Miracle on 34th Street’s plot doesn’t lend itself to a musical adaption, or maybe Willson intended this musical for a younger audience who wouldn’t have understood the original’s darker themes. Obstacles and intentions aside, it is clear why Willson’s adaption is rarely performed, and the problem isn’t Toby’s.
Miracle on 34th Street . originally titles Here’s Love . Book by Meredith Willson; Music by Meredith Willson; Lyrics by Meredith Willson; Based on “Miracle on 34th Street” by Valentine Davies and George Seaton . Directed by Shawn Kettering . Music direction: Douglas Lawler . Produced by Toby’s Dinner Theatre – Columbia . Reviewed by Rebecca Evans.