Actors Co-op treats audiences to Miracle On 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play, a tuneful, nostalgic, family-friendly alternative to the myriad A Christmas Carols filling local stages this holiday season.

Flairfully directed by Joseph Leo Bwarie, Miracle On 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play recreates the 1947 movie classic as it might have been restaged for radio back in those pre-TV days of yore. (Indeed Lux Radio Theater did just that soon after the film’s release, and it’s from that live broadcast that Lance Arthur Smith has confectioned his affectionate stage adaptation.)

The story being retold is the same one that has delighted filmgoers, TV watchers, video-and-DVD-viewers, and Netflix streamers since Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, and an Oscar-winning Edmund Glenn first introduced us to Macy’s Department Store Santa Kris Kringle, whose claim to be the real St. Nick soon has him on trial for his sanity as store employee Doris Walker and her attorney neighbor Fred Gailey discover the joys of falling in love and Doris’s daughter Susan learns to believe in fairy-tale endings.

Miracle On 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play allows theatergoers too young to have known radio as it was in the 1930s and ‘40s to experience what it might have been like to be seated in a studio audience as families across the land gathered in their living rooms to conjure up images of the colorful characters a talented group of actors were creating with their voices alone.

Not only that, but Co-op ticketholders get to see how sound effects were created live, from footsteps to doors opening and closing to typewriters being typed to coffee cups being clinked, all of this at a table piled high with effects-making paraphernalia. (It’s fun too to see how voices were made to sound as if they were coming from telephone receivers.)

And let’s not forget “words from our sponsor” performed by cast members touting Camel Cigarettes (“When it comes to elation, try the one cigarette with no burning sensation.”) and more.

Adding to the magic–and differentiating this Miracle On 34th Street from the non-musical “radio play” Pasadena Playhouse staged in 2017–are Jon Lorenz’s melodious songs, from tweaked carols to catchy originals performed 1940s style a la Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and the Andrews Sisters, with choreographer Anna Aimee White and musical director Anthony Lucca adding their own considerable contributions along the way.

As leading lady “Cordelia Ragsdale,” a stellar, stunningly red-wigged Lauren Thompson not only captures the dulcet “pear-shaped tones” affected by Hollywood actresses in those pre-method days but her Doris Walker sings quite gorgeously to boot, and young Callie Chae Pyken is a preteen charmer as “Gracie DeMarco,” aka Susan.

Everybody else essays multiple roles each beginning with dynamic Sal Sabella (“Kristopher Van Lisberg”) as a mellifluous-voiced Kris Kringle, who gets to play opposite himself to delightful effect in a rapid-fire back-and-forth with Van Lisberg’s Judge Harper.

Divorcee Doris couldn’t ask for a more movie-star handsome Fred than Matthew Soloman’s “Grady Williams,” who doubles deliciously as Santa’s Helper Alfred and as crabby crabapple Mr. Sawyer.

Kristen Cook is a petite ball of fire as sassy “Olivia Glatt,” who not only slips into multiple character roles but sings up a storm and plays a mean guitar to boot.

Jack Tavcar’s “Wallace Ainsley” is a hoot as Macy’s PR man Mr. Shellhamer, and like Sibella gets to be his own scene partner as no-nonsense prosecutor Mr. Mara and his chipper young son Tommy.

Last but not least, Co-op treasure Phil Crowley shows off previously unrevealed keyboard artistry as “Alex Mialdo,” not only providing piano underscoring and accompaniment throughout but serving as Studio Announcer and playing Mr. Macy opposite hated rival Mr. Gimbel (played by Tavcar’s ”Wallace Ainsley”).

Miracle On 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play looks holiday splendid on Tanya Orellana’s pitch-perfectly rendered KCOOP studio set (kudos shared with properties designer Lori Berg), Jessica Champagne-Hansen’s holiday-hued 1940s costumes take audiences on a sentimental journey as do Jessica Mills’ hair designs, Martha Carter lights all of the above to vibrant effect, and Robert Arturo Ramirez merits his own applause for his crackerjack sound design.

Miracle On 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play is produced by Kyle Montgomery. Joanna Reyes gets to work her stage management magic wizardry in full audience view from the KCOOP control booth.

It’s been some time since Actors Co-op has staged a full-fledged Christmas show as part of their mainstage season, all the more reason to celebrate Miracle On 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play’s crowd-pleasing arrival as the holidays approach.

follow on twitter small

Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
November 22, 2019
Photos: Matthew Gilmore


Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.