REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s classic ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ delivers a gentle nudge of holiday cheer

Miracle on 34th Street is a simple tale with a big message.

During this time of year, faith is a predominant theme within many holiday productions such as faith in humanity, in God, and in a “right jolly old elf.”  From Twas the Night Before Christmas to A Christmas Carol, the holiday spirit shines through, a temporary feeling that really should last all year long.

Directed with charm by Ilyse Robbins, based on the book by Valentine Davies, and adapted by Mountain Community Theatre, Greater Boston Stage Company’s Miracle on 34th Street continues through Sunday, December 22 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Set in New York City, Miracle on 34th Street is about a mysterious man who becomes a last minute replacement for Santa Claus at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  He befriends Susie Walker, a precocious little girl portrayed with grace and charm by Addison McWayne, who is far too sensible for childish things including believing in Santa Claus.  Natalie Wood rose to fame in her role as Susie Walker with Maureen O’Hara as Doris Walker in the beloved 1947 film.

Greater Boston Stage Company Miracle on 34th Street cast

Jon Savage’s vibrant set design includes a lovely, towering, and whimsical Christmas tree that contributes its own unique part in the tale.  The famous parade is just one of the events that take place in the aisles during this semi-immersive production.

Though this production of Miracle of 34th Street is not considered a musical, it does have its share of musical moments.  From gift wrapping to sweeping the store shelves, the store workers do more than whistle while they work, swaying and lifting their voices in a variety of spontaneous Christmas carols such as The 12 Days of Christmas, Sleigh Ride, and The Nutcracker Suite led by the mirthful vocal stylings of David Jiles Jr. as Mr. Adams.

Packed with a likeable cast of characters including a lively and noteworthy performance by Gary Thomas NG as Alfred, Miracle on 34th Street shows it is sometimes better to see with the heart rather than the head.  Gary Thomas NG is captivating as Alfred, a humble and gleeful janitor full of holiday cheer.  NG depicts Alfred with a song in his heart as he spontaneously leaps for joy across the stage.  His comic scenes with William Gardiner as gentle, jovial and unfailingly forthright Kris Kringle are a particular highlight as they compete in board games and engage in candid conversations.  With warm charisma and that signature twinkle, William Gardiner fills Kris Kringle’s red suspenders with finesse and of the many iconic conversations he has with McWayne’s Susie, their playful dialogue about imagination is just wonderful.

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In a red coat and distinctive 50s red lipstick, Sara Coombs portrays Doris Walker, an astute and shrewd businesswoman.  It is amusing to watch Walker and her “mini-me” daughter Susie as they inadvertently duplicate each other’s mannerisms.  Susie is seemingly as mature, confident, and shrewd as her elegant mother.  Showing a great rapport with each cast member, Michael Jennings Mahoney is refreshing as fun loving and laid back Fred.  Barlow Adamson exacts Macy store manager Mr. Shellhammer’s nervous and priceless tense expressions prevalent during the holiday season.

Having last seen Juliet Bowler in an affecting performance at Flat Earth Theatre’s Not Medea, it is no surprise that Bowler show off her talents as insecure, strict and secretive Leslie Sawyer.  Her cold disdain and devious manipulations reach Grinch-like proportions.  Sara Gazdowicz also takes an amusing turn as a fast talking, accent-rich NYC cop.

Greater Boston Stage Company Miracle on 34th Street Leslie, Kris, and cast

Juliet Bowler as Mrs. Sawyer, Barlow Adamson as Mr. Shellhammer, Sara Coombs as Doris Walker, and William Gardiner as Kris Kringle Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

While some performances demonstrate holiday spirit in pomp and spectacle, Greater Boston Stage Company delivers that feeling with a gentle nudge of heartwarming cheer.  Greater Boston Stage Company’s Miracle on 34th Street through Sunday, December 22.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here to learn more about Greater Boston Stage Company and their upcoming 2020 productions.

REVIEW:  Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ is funny, fascinating, but its best moments shine quietly

How did Peter Pan get his name?  What exactly is Pixie dust?  How did Peter become Hook’s sworn enemy?

The premise is promising.  From pirate to prawn, every cast member is a dynamic storyteller in Hub Theatre of Boston’s imaginative musical, Peter and the Starcatcher, a prequel of sorts to Peter Pan.  Featuring an energetic cast taking on multiple roles, a wealth of physical humor, and no shortage of wild comedy, Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher strings together the adventures that lead up to the legend of Peter Pan.

Hub Theatre of Boston Peter and the Starcatcher cast

Peter and the Starcatcher cast Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Directed by Sarah Gazdowicz with music direction by Bethany Aiken, Hub Theatre of Boston presents Peter and the Starcatcher, the final production of its sixth season, with recently added performances through Sunday, November 18 at First Church of Boston in Boston, Massachusetts.  Tickets are available at a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information.

Cassie Chapados’s detailed London set harbors clues from the classic Peter Pan story, but the actual performance seems to spring out of a child’s imagination.  The cast emerges from every side and each seat has a good view at First Church of Boston.  Peter and the Starcatcher is action-packed and respect is due for the sheer physical nature of this piece as this animated cast frequently and skillfully form human structures such as a ship and various scenarios as the story unfolds.

Peter and the Starcatcher group shot

L to R: Joey C. Pelletier as Black Stache and Michael John Ciszewski and the cast Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Dominated by dastardly pirates, Peter and the Star Catcher is full of captures, double crosses, commandeering ships, and overseas adventure.   Molly Kimmerling portrays Bill Slank with a sneer and a strut, a charismatic double crosser with a rock n roll edge.  Michael John Ciszewski as dimwitted, somewhat unhinged Smee and Joey C. Pelletier as swaggering Black Stache work well together in silly, over the top fun.

With inquisitive eyes and a star-crossed dress, Lauren Elias is no damsel in distress as eloquent, logical, and determined Molly Aster.  Much like her father Lord Aster in a commanding performance by Liz Adams, Molly’s plucky personality is a good match for Claire Koenig as lonely, forthright and naïve orphan known only as Boy.

Peter and the Starcatcher Boy

Claire Koenig as Boy with the cast Photo courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

The exploration of loneliness, faith, dreams of flying, and finding one’s place in the world is part of what inspires writers to expand and retell this timeless tale.  The improvisational, local, and at times, self referential humor ranges from what an older child would appreciate and features some adult humor as the show progresses.  The audience is so close to the action, it is also somewhat interactive at times.  Peter and the Starcatcher is packed with comedy and yet, it is the sweeter, quieter moments that give the production true heart.

Hub Theatre Company of Boston presents Peter and the Starcatcher through Sunday, November 18 at First Church of Boston in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Get all of Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s upcoming events and more on Facebook.

REVIEW: Kristin Chenoweth thrills Boston with her unshakable optimism, humor, and unstoppable vocals

“Boston is my second favorite place in the world,” reveals a glimmering Kristin Chenoweth, “Don’t tell New York.”  Wearing a black, glitzy cocktail dress paired with shining silver pumps and a megawatt smile, award-winning singer and film, television, and musical theatre actress Kristin Chenoweth excitedly burst onto the Boston Symphony Hall stage, standing before an equally shimmering microphone as the crowd roared.  “I feel like I’m in Oklahoma,” she revealed, sipping from a large Dunkin’ Donuts cup, “It feels right.”

It also felt right for the enthusiastic, packed house as Chenoweth kicked off her one night only, Celebrity Series of Boston debut of An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth on Sunday, April 30.  Symphony Hall was appropriately lit in Chenoweth’s signature color as Greek statues above the balconies gave off a violet and pink hue.

Celebrity Series Symphony stage

Celebrity Series of Boston at Symphony Hall Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

Greeting the audience with Should I be Sweet by Vincent Millie Youmans from the musical, Take a Chance, a thrilling, flirtatious ode debating the perfect way to present oneself, Chenoweth immediately lured the audience in with her engaging, vivacious, and wonderfully charming personality as well as her rich, unstoppable vocals.  From beautiful stories about her parents to her unfailingly optimistic, humorous, and unbridled reflections on her life and career, Chenoweth proved not only a brilliant entertainer, but an incredible joy just to spend time with.

Accompanied by her Worcester-raised Music Director Michael Orland on piano, who is also the vocal coach to the hit show, Little Big Shots, Kristin Chenoweth spoke about a few of her past career highlights in television such as GCB, West Wing, Glee, Pushing Daisies, and Hairspray Live, to new projects such as a recently filmed pilot set in Boston as well as her new role on American Gods that premiered on Starz that same evening.  Chenoweth also revealed a few significant roles that horrified her God-fearing parents, having been raised in the Bible belt in Oklahoma.  For instance, having heard about Chenoweth’s new role as a witch in Wicked, Jerry and Judy Chenoweth shockingly asked, “Is the show satanic?”  She also launched into the scandalous Broadway tune from the hit musical, A Chorus Line called Dance Ten Looks Three, cheekily toning down the lyrics to coincide with her conservative upbringing.

Kristin Chenoweth in Boston

Photo courtesy of Robert Torres/Celebrity Series of Boston

What makes An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth so powerful is for that evening, Chenoweth’s uplifting view of life helped to make life a bit more bearable, even in its sadder moments.  Her recitation of The Obituary of the Pillsbury Doughboy was a particular highlight as a moment of silly humor following a glorious and emotional rendition of the beloved song, Bring Him Home from the musical, Les Miserables as she alluded to the Boston and Oklahoma bombings, a painful reminder of what Boston and her hometown have in common.

Chenoweth warmly shared her early experiences longing to become a ballerina, her surprising friendship with Julie Andrews, and what inspired her latest Grammy-nominated album full of Chenoweth’s favorite songs from the American Songbook, The Art of Elegance.  She sang a poignant, timeless selection from the album by Hoagie Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, I Get Along Without You Very Well.  She also delivered a few of her signature songs with lively exuberance such as Taylor, The Latte Boy and Popular from the musical, Wicked, her soaring, silvery, classically-trained vocals dancing from pop to operatic, perfectly complementing her witty sense of humor.

Kristin Chenoweth on Symphony Hall stage

Kristin Chenoweth with the Boston Conservatory and the Boston City Singers Photo courtesy of Robert Torres/Celebrity Series of Boston

Chenoweth surprised the audience by bringing out the Boston Conservatory and Boston City Singers to join her onstage to perform as she expressed her love of mentoring students and her love of all faiths.  “For those who don’t believe,” Chenoweth added, “this will be over in four minutes.”  Accompanied by the two choirs, she launched into the worship song, Upon this Rock.  Her performance closed with what Chenoweth refers to as her anthem, I was Here, though her tender, memorable encore, Smile, may have also stayed with the audience long after the show was over.

Click here to see where the award-winning Kristin Chenoweth will be touring next as well as how to get a copy of her latest album, The Art of Elegance.  A few performances remain in the Celebrity Series of Boston’s season.  Click here for tickets and for a closer look at this season’s shows and here to take a peek at their recently announced 2017-18 season.  Follow Celebrity Series of Boston on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

REVIEW: Magnificent and visually-stunning, Holiday Pops offers flawless holiday cheer

Woven into a wide spectrum of Christmas carols, spiritual hymns, and holiday music capped off with a rousing sing-along, is the stuff that makes the Holiday Pops so appealing each year.  Whether it’s through the excitement of the all volunteer Tanglewood Festival Chorus or maestro Keith Lockhart sharing his own Christmas memories, The Boston Pops adds their own unique, personal flair to each heartfelt performance, making it easy to alleviate the stress of the season and happily embrace what truly matters each year.  In its 21st season, The Holiday Pops at Boston Symphony Hall continues through December 31.   The Boston Pops also offers special presentations of the film, “Back to the Future” with live orchestra and New Year’s Eve led by acclaimed bandleader, Bo Winiker.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Elegantly adorning the intrinsically-detailed gold balconies are white, twinkling lights and multi-colored bulbs on thick, festive wreaths, just a sampling of the stunning, festive surroundings inside Symphony Hall.  The hall also offers its share of playful, humorous decor including orchestra harps topped off with Santa hats.  During the show, the stage spontaneously came to life with a variety of scenery reflected above the stage, from flickering candles to sweeping, dancing snowflakes.  Holiday Pops also featured a stirring presentation of winter scenes created by visual artist and astronomer Jose Francisco Salgado, PhD.  With a lit sky swirling violet with chiming bells, the presentation’s depiction the Northern lights to the song, The Adoration of the Magi from Three Botticelli Pictures lent a mystical, peaceful tone.

This powerful performance of Holiday Pops offered equal doses of reflective material and lightheartedness, the first half insightful and striking.  A Christmas prelude that included Hark the Harold Angels Sing, kicked off a reflective, wondrous first half woven in with maestro Keith Lockhart’s personal reflections of the holiday season such as a wonderful story about his father.  A lullaby sounding Christmas oratorio, Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light followed by the Hanukkah song, Light One Candle depicted sacrifice, unity, and hope.  Holiday Pops also offered a jubilant calypso of Mary’s Little Boy Child, as the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, dressed splendidly in black and white, playfully swayed to the beat.

Brimming with beloved classic Christmas carols and guest appearances by Santa and more, the second half of Holiday Pops was a vibrant, yuletide spectacle of Christmas cheer.  While old fashioned Christmas bulbs glowed to the beat, The jolly Tanglewood Festival Chorus delivered a string of Christmas waltzes, singalongs, and more including the annual reading of Clement Charke Moore’s Twas The Night Before Christmas by special guest, NBC Boston’s Melody Mendez.  Boston’s delightful, signature versions of Sleigh Ride and the incredible and amusing 12 Days of Christmas were welcome additions to the mix as Santa Claus expertly conducted the rousing Chorus.  Holiday Pops gave a final encore of Let There Be Peace on Earth, as Earth shone overhead, brilliantly conveyed the quiet hope for the upcoming New Year.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra has a tremendous lineup in the New Year!  All performances take place at Boston Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave in Boston, Massachusetts. Click here for tickets to any of BSO’s upcoming performances, through SymphonyCharge at 888-266-1200, and at the Symphony Hall Box Office, 301 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, Massachusetts.  Listen to the Holiday Pops at home with “A Boston Pops Christmas: Live from Symphony Hall” album available through ITunes, Amazon, and Amazon MP3.

REVIEW: Massasoit Theatre Company’s “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical” a faithfully-festive, whimsical adventure

miracles-rockettes

The cast of Massasoit Theatre Company’s production of “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical.” Cast as the Rockettes and a train conductor.

miracles-kelly-hines-and-austin-archabal

Photo courtesy of Jeanne Rocheteau. From L to R: Austin Archabal as Susan and Kelly Hines as Doris in Massasoit Theatre Company’s “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical”

It is easy to see why Massasoit Theatre Company selected “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical” as part of its 50th anniversary season. While holiday shows often delve into the true meaning of the Christmas season, “Miracle” also festively explores with heartwarming humor what makes one shun imagination and blind faith for solemn practicality. It also reminds the audience what makes faith in everything so precious. Directed by Nathan Fogg, produced by Mark Rocheteau, and choreographed by Samantha Brior Jones, Massasoit Theatre Company continues its run of “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical” through Sunday, December 18. Click here for more information and for tickets.

Set in New York City on Thanksgiving Day prior to an impressive depiction of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Kelly Hines as Doris is in the midst of a crisis. The Santa Claus they hired for the parade is out of commission at the last minute. Enter Craig O’Connor as charismatic and whimsical Kris, who may be just what Macy’s is looking for. This family friendly, classic tale is further enhanced by its beautiful, uplifting score by Meredith Wilson, who co-penned another beloved musical classic, “The Music Man” with Franklin Lacey. Massasoit’s Theatre Company’s “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical” delves into familiar carols such as It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas as well as catchy, playful, original numbers such as She Hadda Go Back, a song reminiscent of Music Man’s memorable, comedic number, Trouble. Each number offers deeper, meaningful insight into each character and heightens the show’s inherent message without veering off course.

Kelly Hines portrays Doris’s irrepressibly determined nature right down to her poised chin. Protective and practical, Hines exudes a sweet chemistry with Austin Archabal as Doris’s precocious, but curious daughter Susan, especially evident during their harmonious number, Arm in Arm. Hines also shows a new, incalculable side to her when she meets Matt Torrance as personable, but disciplined Fred Gailey. Hines offers an impassioned performance, especially with the number, You Don’t Know.

Austin Archabal shines as Susan, demonstrating her mother’s spunk, but peppered with wide-eyed wonder. She has natural, touching chemistry with each cast member, but is most memorable with Craig O’Connor’s wise, whimsical, and with a certain twinkle portrayal of bearded, spectacled Kris, especially during the number, Expect Things to Happen.

With equal twinkle and charisma is Matt Torrance’s brilliant performance as Fred. With a smooth, silvery voice, natural tap skills, and personable nature, Torrance is captivating in each scene and takes the humorous numbers, She Hadda Go Back and Look, Little Girl to a new level.

In a three piece suit, glasses, and an often frenzied look, Alexander Hagerty adds a hefty dose of zany humor as enthusiastic, and at times, bumbling Macy’s store assistant Marvin Shellhammer. From his wild antics and outlandish jingles, Hagerty is a comedic scene stealer. Possessing a melodic alto, Athan Mantalos also delivers a forthright, commanding performance as R.H. Macy.

From the portrayal of iconic holiday figures such as the Rockettes and Raggedy Ann and Andy to name a few to extraordinary, imaginative characters, the entire cast embraces holiday cheer, setting a lively, ‘50s city tone enhanced by sets depicting colorful city skylines, bright, detailed Christmas decorations, and a wide variety of creative costumes by Jennifer Spagone. Above all, Massasoit’s Theatre Company’s “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical” depicts just what love and letting go will do.

Massasoit Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary season presents their holiday production of “Miracle on 34th Street the Musical” continuing through Sunday, December 18. All performances are held at Buckley Performing Arts Center, 1 Massasoit Boulevard in Brockton, MA.  Click here for tickets and for further details of their 50th season.  Follow them on Facebook for the latest updates.