Will the real Santa Claus please stand up? The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade needs you.
In “Miracle on 34th Street,” coming to Peoria’s Arizona Broadway Theatre Nov. 23-Dec. 29, last-minute Santa replacement Kris Kringle may or may not be the real thing. But the humor, spectacle and treasured songs — including “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and “Here’s Love” — definitely are real.
Based on the 1947 Academy Award-winning classic film featuring Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood, the heartwarming musical has a score by Meredith Willson (“The Music Man,” “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”) and promises to be a holiday treat for the whole family.
The show tells the story of single mother Doris Walker, who works at Macy’s, and her young daughter, Susan. Neighbor Fred Gaily tries to woo Doris by charming Susan and taking her to see Macy’s Santa, the kindly Kris Kringle hired by Walker. When it seems that this Santa might actually be real, a wave of love spreads throughout New York City.
Directing “Miracle on 34th Street” is James Rio, who previously directed ABT’s productions of “Camelot,” “Les Misérables” and “The Sound of Music.” Rio also has appeared as Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” and Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha,” both for ABT.
Also returning to ABT are music director Joshua Condon (“Sweeney Todd”), choreographer Heather Adams (“Camelot,” “The King and I”) and scenic designer Kara Thomson (“Man of La Mancha,” “Camelot” and “Lucky Stiff”).
Rio says he’s seen the classic film but purposely didn’t re-watch it when preparing to direct the musical version at ABT. “I wanted to approach the material with a very fresh eye, and ultimately I think that is what helps it stand out from the others,” he says. “This production is unique to Arizona Broadway Theatre and boasts a delightful cast of very talented adults from all over the country and heart-stealing local youth.”
Among those cast members is MJJ Cashman, reprising his role as Kris Kringle. Doris Walker is played by Melissa Mitchell, who played Kate McGowan in “Titanic” and Miss Lark in “Mary Poppins” for ABT.
Taking the role of Fred Gaily is Cody Gerszewski, who also played Steve Baker in ABT’s “Show Boat.”
Sharing the role of Susan are Ava Newton and Emily Grace Anton. Ava has been seen previously in “Oliver!” and “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” for ABT. The 10-year-old is in the fifth grade at Montessori Kingdom of Learning in Peoria and was most recently seen at TheaterWorks as Lucy in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and as Flounder in “The Little Mermaid.” Emily, who is in the seventh grade at Pinnacle Peak Preparatory in Scottsdale, is making her ABT debut.
Rio believes the message of “Miracle on 34th Street” is timely — uncannily so.
“One of the production’s largest numbers is entitled ‘Here’s Love,’ and its message is that, no matter the differences between us — from looks to business competition to ideology — we can find common ground and respect through love,” he says. “It’s a wonderful way to approach the holidays and to close out the year.”