Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play
San Diego Musical Theatre
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Jim Chovick, Julia Van Skike,
and Janaya Mahealani Jones

Photo by Ken Jacques
Most of the shows presented by San Diego Musical Theatre this season have been adaptations of classic movies. What makes this production of Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play unique is that it is a rare world premiere event for the company. This new adaptation by Lance Arthur Smith of the original film and the 1947 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast rendition is being presented at San Diego's Horton Grand Studio. Several fictional entertainers portray all the characters from the motion picture.

Smith's adaptation doesn't take many liberties with the classic plot. The witty lines from the silver screen family comedy are retained, with some added clever dialogue. After successfully playing Santa Claus at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Kris Kringle (Jim Chovick) continues in his role as Saint Nick for the department store. While he is mostly respected at his new job, Kris gets into trouble after telling others that he really is Santa. He hopes to convince the jaded Macy's special events director Doris Walker (Janaya Mahealani Jones) and her daughter Susan (Julia Van Skike) that he truly is the jolly Christmas figure.

SDMT is only beginning to produce shows at the Horton Grand Theatre. The staff made a wise decision in hiring a director who had previously worked at the theatrical space; Colleen Kollar Smith creates the atmosphere of an old-fashioned radio program, with commercial jingles, sound effects and narration. Her creative team doesn't skimp on festive visuals. There is a lot to look at in the room that Michael McKeon helped design. Lighting from Christina J. Martin deserves special attention, because her contributions are often timed perfectly to music in the well-paced plot.

Audiences can close their eyes and still get swept away by the story. This is mainly accomplished by the work by the players of fictional station KSDMT. Chovick brings almost nonstop optimism to the part of Kris. Despite his faith in others, Chovick shows that the Samaritan isn't a pushover and knows when to speak his mind. Two people with contrasting opinions on Kris are Doris and her attorney boyfriend, Fred Gailey (Matthew Malecki). Doris thinks Kris might be insane, but Fred respects his new friend's hope in humanity. Both Jones and Malecki maintain a strong rapport, whether acting in a romantic scene or singing an emotional melody together. When conflicts get in the way of the couple's relationship, it's hard to believe they can potentially be separated when the actors' romantic chemistry seems so genuine.

In addition to the leads, the supporting performers are featured in plenty of standout moments. Skike's peppy attitude is a perfect fit for the role of Susan. For pure comic relief, Lise Hafso and Eric Hellmers depict different people whom Kris encounters. Hafso and Hellmers can be hilarious—through simple physical gestures or from speaking in wildly unusual voices. One of the hardest working artists is Cris O'Bryon. Besides being an announcer, he plays the piano and is the Foley artist. With help from sound designer Kevin Anthenill, he goes above and beyond wearing multiple hats.

Tunes the players sing are a blend of holiday songs and original musical numbers by Jon Lorenz. Numbers such as "Macy's Parade Song," "Santa Don't Let us Down" and "Extra, Extra!" are written with enjoyable retro style. Ending the program on a touching note is Lorenz's finale, "Believe." By the time the final scene arrives, audience members might feel like they have already gotten their fair share of moments that reflect on the power of faith. Yet, the music and lyrics are so delicately combined, they won't be able to resist the inevitably heart-tugging conclusion.

By incorporating the live radio format, Colleen Kollar Smith's take on the famous motion picture gives viewers an eve of yuletide cheer. May this not be the only time that Kris visits the Downtown San Diego Theatre.

San Diego Musical Theatre presents Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play through December 23, 2016. Performs Performs Sundays through Saturdays at 444 Fourth Avenue. Tickets start at $30.00 and be purchased online at or by phone at 1-858-560-5740.

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