Over the past few years, taking the trip to Munster to view their productions has become a treat. The theater is nearer to Chicago than many think and is easy to get to with free parking, inexpensive dining in the area, family friendly ticket prices and of course, you save money by filling up in Indiana, but of greater importance has been the quality of the shows produced and the local talent presented on their wonderful stage with great sight lines for all. Holiday plays make the job a little tougher, as there are not that many that a producer and director can agree on and then, with all the theaters in and around the Greater Chicago area, competition gets pretty fierce. Munster has opted for this year’s “holiday” production, a 1963 musical version of the famed story/movie “Miracle on 34th Street” by Valentine Davies. The musical version, with a strange title-“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”, has a book by Meredith Willson ( who also wrote the lyrics and music) so one would expect another “Music Man” or “Unsinkable Molly Brown”, but what we get is a watered down version of a movie that stole our hearts and made even non-believers in the spirit of the season, think perhaps they were wrong.
It is a classic story- it is New York, the day of the Macy’s Parade and their Santa is drunk. The HR/Publicity person for the famed department store meets a white bearded gentleman and asks him to take on the job and save Macy’s for the thousands of families who have been lining the street for hours. She herself, a divorcee raising an almost teen-aged daughter, is a non believer. What takes place over the next two hours is just like the movie but with music and dancing and yes, all the hokiness that comes with the sweet and sweeter “holiday” shows. The script is pretty boring and humdrum despite some quality acting. Director Bill Pullinsi is a fine director, but not a magician and Choreographer Linda Fortunato either didn’t have the talent to work with or couldn’t find the creative juices she has shown of late.
The saviour to this show was the hard working ensemble and I would have to say, the familiarity with the story and the fact that it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, so how could we not find any play that deals with the warmth of bringing happiness to those who are miserable anything but a recommended ( only in this case, somewhat- not for the singers and actors, but for the script and its dullness) The overall picture this production paints is one of bringing joy to the audience and what more can be expected of a theatre company.
Robert Hildreth makes a marvelous Kris Kringle and has a wonderful glint in his eye that truly makes you feel that he is who he thinks he is.The delightful Kelli Nichol Morgan handles the role of Doris Walker and I wonder why they chose to “wig” her instead of allowing her lovely blonde hair to flow naturally. Did they not have blonde’s in those days? Her daughter Susan is deftly handled by Grace Goble who has a powerful voice and great stage presence. She is one that I am sure we will see more of in the future. The always reliable David Perkovich handles the comic role of Marvin, Doris’ assistant with great flair, and I was very impressed with Peter Kevoian’s Mr. Macy. It has been some time sine I have seen Ron Keaton ( for many years a regular up in Lincolnshire) handle many roles and he does so with just the right touch ( and wig). Great to see you back Ron!
The ensemble, which you all know I feel makes or breaks a show, works very hard in this one to be everyone who is not one of the major roles- quick changes of costumes and personalities gets it done: Benjamin Kirberger,Robert Deason,Megan Simmoons, Jenny Guse, Nicole Miller,Amy Brophy, Livvie Goble,Cory Stonebrook,Reid O’Connell,Alex McCrary, Peter Vamvakas,Blake Spillers,Spencer Burse,Shelly Crawford, Tony Dipisa and Janell Rinne- great work! The only player that I did not mention is Jeff Diebold as Fred Gaily, the love interest for Doris, father figure for Susan While Diebold has talent, I did not feel that he was in the same play with the others until the courtroom. I saw a cocky ex-marine turned lawyer that was always right and always knew what would happen next. I think he needs to re-read the script and get the feeling that this character is supposed to have. Why would Susan WANT him to be her father? Why would Doris kiss him? He is important to the story and it takes him a bit to long to become part of it. Yet, even he can’t bring down the warmth and heart of what this play is all about. This week end I am viewing Porchlight’s “Miracle on 34th Street: the Musical” so stay tuned for dueling Santas.
Meanwhile, if you like Willson’s music and the story, it is worth the drive to Munster to see this production at the Theatre at the Center located at 1040 Ridge Road. Exit Calumet South/route 41 from I80/94 and at Ridge make a left. A few blocks down you see the sign, pull in and enjoy!
The production will continue through December 19th with performances as follows:
Wednesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. Fridays and saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2;30 p.m. There are also some Saturday afternoons at 2:30 and some Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m., ( but not Thanksgiving)
To order your tickets which range from $36-$40, call 800-511-1552 ( www.Tickets.com) or 219-836-3255
want more info, visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com