It's a Christmas Miracle! With Miracle on 34th Street, the Georgetown Palace Theatre has breathed new life into a loveable but flawed and forgotten musical and in the process has given Austin a sparkling, family-friendly Holiday treat.
The show, originally produced on Broadway in 1963 under the puzzling title Here's Love, closely follows the plot of the film version of Miracle on 34th Street in which the Macy's Department store Santa (Dale Schultz) insists that he is the real Santa Claus, slowly turning Macy's employee Doris Walker (Samantha Ricker Watson) and her skeptic daughter Susan (Anna Lucia Nastase) into believers.
While Meredith Willson's book, music, and lyrics are all serviceable, they fail to match the success of Willson's most well-known work, The Music Man. While you could probably hum "Seventy-Six Trombones" or "The Wells Fargo Wagon" on demand, you'd be hard pressed to do the same with any of the songs here, save for a little ditty called "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." The script also has a few flaws here and there, namely the length and the almost complete absence of the character of Susan in the second act.
Yet despite the issues posed by the material, the cast and crew of the Georgetown Palace salvages the show and turns it into a gem. Director Ron Watson keeps the show moving along and focuses on the whimsical, magical aspects of the story. The choreography by Danny Herman and Rocker Verastique is exceptionally glitzy and dazzling, especially in Macy's Parade inspired opening number. Dylan Rocamora's lighting is charming, the seven-piece band led by Lannes Hilboldt is exceptional, and the costumes by Ramona Haass are all beautiful and period-appropriate. With a cast of 40 and a large amount of costume changes, keeping everyone dressed to the nines is quite a feat. But among the crew, Set Designer Barb Jernigan and Video Designer Rich Simms deserve the most praise. This show is chock full of sets, all of which fill every inch of the intimate Georgetown stage, and the videos and projections by Simms add complement the set wonderfully. His projections are delightfully clever, especially the ones used during the opening scene at the Macy's Parade and in another sequence in which Santa leads Macy's customers to Gimble's Department Store by way of the subway system.
Adding to the experience is the remarkable cast which easily fits into the lush, wondrous world created by the creative team. The ensemble is fantastic, the children's ensemble is downright adorable, and the leads are all fantastic. As Fred Gaily, Santa's lawyer and the neighbor/love interest to Doris, Jared M. Hill possesses a strong singing voice. As the divorcée Ms. Walker, Samantha Ricker Watson is exceptional. While Ms. Walker may not be as well-developed or juicy as Willson's other sader-but-wiser girl, Marian the Librarian, Ricker Watson makes the most of the character. Anna Lucia Nastase proves to be a young actress to watch with the role of Susan. She is precocious but charming and thoroughly delightful.
But the two most memorable performances come from Robert Josef Cross as the Macy's Toy Department Manager, Marvin Shellhammer and Dale Shultz as Kris Kringle. Mr. Cross gives a campy, over-the-top, and hysterical performance as Shellhammer. The fact that he looks like John Waters and sounds like Paul Lynde makes for a ridiculously fun performance, and he chews scenery like nobody's business. And Mr. Shultz is completely endearing and believable as Kris Kringle. With his perfect look, his booming voice, and his kind, loveable nature, Mr. Shultz is Santa Claus. He's so good, his performance makes it somewhat difficult to stomach that so many of the characters around him don't believe that he is Santa Claus.
While the material has its problems, the current Georgetown Palace production of Miracle on 34th Street is an enchanted Holiday masterpiece that both children and adults will enjoy.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and you can see him at the Georgetown Palace.