Also see Scott's review of The Wizard of Oz
Many people will tell you that a good formula for a successful musical is solid source material, a skillful adaptation to the musical form, and a worthwhile production, including cast, director, and designers. Miracle On 34th Street, currently playing at La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro, Ohio, certainly has a strong pedigree for its story, and they do a fine overall job of staging the show. However, the writers who transformed the film classic into a song and dance spectacular might have been better off leaving things alone.
Miracle On 34th Street tells the story of Doris and Susan Walker, a mother and daughter that are much too practical to believe in Santa Claus. Doris is in charge of Personnel at Macy's Department Store in New York (circa 1947) and it's Christmastime. Doris hires a kind, older gentlemen to play Santa at the store, but when the man proclaims to be Kris Kringle and Santa himself, his sanity is called into question. With the help of their friend Fred Gayley, the Walker gals try to discover the true spirit of Christmas and save Kris from being committed.
The source material is a heartwarming tale of hope and faith, and one of the most endearing and well-known Christmas films of all time. However, the adaptation to the musical stage by Vernon L. Stefanic (book and lyrics) and Douglas M. Smith (music) leaves much to be desired. The music is utterly unremarkable with the exception of a few pleasant ballads, with "I Believe In Miracles" being the best melody of the lot. The lyrics are generally banal and insipid, with hardly a trace of wit or craft to be found. A song aptly named "Wrong" is oddly unsuitable to the period and style of the piece. The story is somewhat better, in that it wisely trims the story a bit (the beginning and ending differ slightly from the movie versions) and still manages to capture the good will and hopeful spirit of the season.
Despite the weak writing of the musical material, La Comedia somehow manages to mount a decent production of the show. The four lead performers in particular provide a solid foundation for the musical. Brianne Mai (Doris) and Bradford L. Milburn are wonderful singers, and if their acting chops aren't quite up to their vocals, they have good chemistry together and convey the respective hardened and optimistic points of view on Christmas of their characters well. Gordon Gray is practically perfect as Kris Kringle. He's believable, warm and fun, and brings a well-rounded portrayal to the role. He sings capably and displays professional timing and delivery throughout. Cosette Hood, who alternates the role of Susan Walker with Talia Consentino, is only ten years old, but sings beautifully and possesses the stage presence and acting of an experienced veteran.
Director Eric Johnson plays the comedic elements much too broadly, but does create a feel of genuine relationships and connections between the characters that is vital to the story. The set design by Matthew J. Evans and costumes by Darla Buckland and Cathy Howard are period appropriate and sufficiently attractive.
Audiences at La Comedia Dinner Theatre's Miracle on 34th Street are likely to enjoy themselves based on the excellent story and overall strong production, but it's too bad that the songs detract rather than enhance the experience. The show continues at La Comedia through December 31, 2008. Tickets can be ordered by visiting www.lacomedia.com or calling 1-800-677-9505.