I am all for diversity in holiday theatrical programming. I’ve found that while theatre companies can attract new audiences with new and avant-garde holiday titles, they can have just as much luck connecting with audiences when they embrace putting on traditional classic plays and musicals. Sometimes the trick is to combine the two.
No matter if it’s a new title or a well-known one, the key to connecting with audiences and putting butts in seats is having a quality script and strong and dedicated actors. Steel Beam Theatre is a small professionally run not-for-profit company in St. Charles, Illinois that does just this with its charming production of Miracle on 34th Street a Live Radio Show.
The film Miracle on 34th Street is a well-known classic. It wasconceived by writer Valentine Davies and then adapted to film by director George Seaton. The film was released in 1947 and garnered multiple Academy Awards including Best Original Story for Davies and Best Screenplay for Seaton.
The story tells of a little girl named Susan Walker and her mother Doris who don’t believe in Santa. However, a chance encounter with a man who looks like Santa opens up a whole new world. That man is convinced he is the real Santa Claus, which makes him a hit at Macy’s department store but causes complications when he is put on trial to either defend his sanity or be committed. The question is: will Susan and her mother be able to rescue the friendly old man while saving the spirit of Christmas?
The film was hugely popular. In fact, it still is. In addition to the story and screenplay Oscars, Miracle on 34th Street also earned Best Supporting Actor honors for Edmund Gwenn in the role of Santa. Due to the popularity, Lux Radio Theatre aired an adaptation of the story several times – the first-time being December 1947. The first of the radio broadcasts actually featured the original film cast including Gwenn as Kris Kringle and a young Natalie Wood as little Susan Walker.
The version of Miracle on 34th Street that is now playing at Steel Beam Theatre features the script from that original radio broadcast. The Lux Radio Show script has been faithfully transcribed by Ben Dooley, with additional materials by the play’s director Catie Early.
BACK IN TIME
Early transports us back to 1947 to a fictional broadcast of the Lux Radio Show. Her material offers us Hollywood stars coming to the radio station to play the lead roles, while a host of station regulars and a few newbies are drafted into action to fill out the cast.
April Noel is magnetic and radiant as the leading lady hired to play Doris Walker. She captures the spotlight with her first entrance and never relinquishes it. Her drink order upon arrival at the station will have you in stitches.
Opposite Noel as Doris’s love interest Fred Gailey is another Hollywood legend, played by with excellence by Brian Freeman. One of the highlights of the show is a rendition of Baby it’s Cold Outside by Noel and Freeman. You’ll be tapping your foot and bopping along to the lively music and impressive singing.
As little Susan Walker, Steel Beam has two wonderfully talented actresses sharing the role. For the performance being reviewed, Ella Thompson was totally endearing. She is cute and lively and a joy to watch. Hailey Church also plays Susan at select other performances. In fact, Thompson and Church are good friends who are thrilled to be sharing the part.
The rest of the characters in the radio play are brought to life by virtue of a very talented ensemble. The small group of actors includes Paul Anderson as Kris Kringle. As a radio play, Anderson doesn’t have to be 300 pounds and sporting a thick white beard to be believable as Santa, rather he is free to bring youth and vivacity to the role. He is fun to watch and has that important ability to connect to the other actors on stage and to the audience enjoying the festivities.
Trace Gamache and Andrew Buel are an absolute pleasure in their multiple roles. They create not only distinct voices for each character, but distinct and developed personalities for each as well.
Gamache is one of those performers who never stops being entertaining. You can glance over at any point in the action and be guaranteed to be entertained by her. When her radio neophyte character is thrust into action, Gamache’s accent choices can be hysterical.
Buel is also a master of many voices and accents. Playing multiple characters, at one point Buel is in direct conversation with himself – playing three characters engaged in talking to each other. It is the stuff of comedic legend.
Don Gingold is ideal for a live radio show such as Steel Beam’s Miracle on 34th Street because he has one of the best radio voices you’ll hear anywhere. His deep baritone is just right for playing authority figures in the radio play and also for serenading the audience with song.
Bryan Joseph makes his return to the stage in Miracle on 34th Street after a 17-year hiatus. Joseph does it all. Like Gingold and the rest of the cast, Joseph entertains as both an actor and singer. Indeed, the entire cast looks like they are having a grand time putting on this entertaining play with music.
ALL AGES ENTERTAINMENT
Under the skillful direction of Early, Steel Beam’s Miracle on 34th Street a Live Radio Show is a treat that children and adults will love. Observing some of the subtle differences between the Miracle on 34th Street film we’ve all grown to love and the 1947 radio script is interesting as well. And the cast is just wonderful.
As a play with music, Steel Beam’s holiday production features some enjoyable music interludes showcasing various members of the cast at different times. Everyone in the cast gets into the action at some point. Anderson provides skillful accompaniment on the piano, while Steve Askins finalizes the ensemble with his impressive guitar work.
Steel Beam Theatre occupies an intimate, comfortable space in the heart of downtown St. Charles. In addition to putting on quality theater, the company has a staff that really knows how to sparkle and impress. And, the venue has some of the most comfortable theater seats in the greater Chicagoland area.
Miracle on 34th Street a Live Radio Show plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through December 18th. The theater is located on the second floor at 111 W. Main Street in St. Charles, IL. For tickets to this enjoyable and recommended production call (630) 587-8521 or visit www.SteelBeamTheatre.com.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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This year, I had the great pleasure of appearing in the hilarious Paul Rudnick comedy I Hate Hamlet for Elgin Theatre Company in the greater Chicago area. To our great honor, I Hate Hamlet has been nominated for seven prizes in the 2022 Broadway World Chicago Theatre Awards:
- Best Direction of a Play – Regina Belt-Daniels
- Best Ensemble Performance
- Best Play
- Best Performer in a Play – Rikki Lee Travolta
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – Trace Gamache
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – Travis Greuel
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – David Gasior
If you want to voice your support for the Elgin Theatre Company production of I Hate Hamlet, you can cast your votes at: https://www.broadwayworld.com/chicago/voteregion.cfm
What a wonderful cast! Great review! I had the pleasure of directing the play Miracle on 34th Street at the Woodstock Opera House many years ago -I’d like to see the radio play version.