St. Augustine’s Limelight Theatre presents a Christmas musical, “Miracle on 34th Street” on the Matuza Main Stage. While most Christmas shows close by December 24, this one, which opened on December 5, will play until January 5, 2015. If you have visitors in town for the holidays, it will be a good time to take a trip to St. Augustine, see the city’s famous display of downtown lighting, and see Limelight’s show. Call 904 825-1164 or visit limelight-theatre.org for reservations.
The movie version of “34th Street” has been around since 1947 and can be seen on TV screens annually during December. The musical, conceived by Meredith Wilson and based on the film, opened in 1963 under the title “Here’s Love.” Limelight’s production is the Florida premier of this light-hearted work.
We can summarize the plot of this fable in the twinkling of an eye. Kris Kringle is working as Santa in NYC at Macy’s when he encounters an unbelieving child and subsequently becomes involved in a courtroom trial where he must convince both his supporters and his enemies that he is indeed the Santa of legend.
Director Shelli Long, who is also the Musical Director, has assembled a strong cast for this holiday treat.
In the pivotal role of Kris Kringle is veteran actor Don Runk. He’s our kind of Santa for several reasons. He is in great shape and doesn’t need Weight Watchers; in fact, he had to add artificial padding to create a belly. The white hair on his head is his own, and his beard is neatly trimmed. And while friendly and upbeat, he is serious, rather than overly jolly, so you won’t be hearing even one “Ho Ho Ho!”Susan Walker, the little girl who is a doubter, is played with gusto by Gracia Romaine who is wonderfully believable as a bright, lively child. The role of Susan is double-cast, with alternate appearances by McKenna Hazel.
Susan’s mother, Doris, works at Macy’s and was responsible for hiring Kris Kringle as the store’s Santa. Maria Helfrich is Doris, in a very different role from the last time we saw her on Limelight’s stage as the mother in “The Bad Seed.” As Doris, she sings and sings very well, and is an attractive divorcée, who has caught the eye of Fred Gaily, a new tenant in a neighboring apartment. Gaily, a retired United States Marine Corps officer pursuing a law career, befriends spunky Susan, taking her to see Macy’s parade and Santa. Jacksonville actor Jonathan Leonard is picture-perfect for this role as he is handsome, charming, sings superbly, and appears smart as a whip.
Our Kris Kringle encounters many adults who question the truth of his claim to being the true Santa Claus. Marvin Shellhammer (Micah Laird) one of Macy’s executives, is a very funny guy, who orders way too many plastic alligators for the holiday season, and makes no secret of his antipathy toward Kris. Rich Nowell, as an impatient psychologist, is another doubter, who wants old Kris committed to a nut house. Chase Lawless is the relentless District Attorney who takes Kris to discredit his claims. Santa’s only friends among the adults in court are the Judge, played by David Williams, and the big boss, Mr. Macy himself, played and sung with a booming bravado voice by James Desmond.
Ah, but who comes to the rescue of old St. Nick? The United State Postal Service, who deliver hundreds and hundreds of letters addressed to Santa to the courtroom, thus proving his identity. So we have a happy ending, Doris gets a guy, Susan gets a father, Fred gets a family, Kris keeps his twinkle, and everyone is filled with holiday cheer.
The adults who played various supporting roles included Shannon Holder, Ben LeBonne, Cathy Swann and Alison Zador. The ensemble of young adults and children is made up of Ashley Herbert, Will Gooden, Alexander Lawless, Savannah Lawless, Natalie Thompson, and Caragh Zeigler. A word about the younger set of actors: during the court room scene, the children did an outstanding job of staying in character and reacting to the proceedings.
Another star of the show is the marvelous set by Production Manager Tom Fallon: a street scene featuring the entrance to Macy’s flanked by their famous picture widows filled with Christmas nutcrackers and other emblems of the season. To the right is the entrance to Gimbles and to the left the door to the Walker’s apartment building. The many other scenes are furnished with set pieces brought on and off swiftly.
The excellent program features photos of all the actors and support staff, which helps the audience figure out who is who. There is no song listing, but it isn’t really necessary, as only one of the twenty so melodies ever became a hit. You will recognize the lyrics for “It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas” which Meredith Wilson wrote ten years before “34th Street,” and later incorporated into the lyrics for “Pine Cones and Holly Berries,” a song composed for the show. Wilson apparently liked patter style songs and “She Hadda Go Back” sounds a lot like his song in “Music Man” entitled “Trouble in River City.” Musicians included Sara Barbee (Bass), Anthony Felton (Pianist), Greg Balut (Trumpet), Brian Lester (Drummer), and Alex Hernandez (Woodwinds).
The show could not go on without key support staff, who included Patty Runk (Stage Manager) and Madi Mack (Choreographer). Costume Designer Lorraine Rokovitz captured New York in the 1940s with clothing from the era that was perfectly gorgeous.
St. Augustine can be very busy at this time of the year, but Limelight has ample free parking in their parking lot; street parking is also available. This is obviously a kid-friendly play and the only question they may have for you is “What is a dame?” (Best Answer: The way military men referred to women in movies from the past).