At first I found myself thinking, "Ya can talk, ya can talk, ya can bicker, ya can talk. Ya can bicker, bicker, bicker, ya can talk all ya want." Later, it was: "... with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for pool." And finally, I was humming (to myself), "No, I never heard them at all, 'til there was you." Curious; this wasn't a performance of The Music Man, yet every song summoned up one of those catchy tunes from Harold Hill and crew. So I wasn't surprised to find, after seeing the Georgetown Palace Theater's production of Miracle on 34th Street, that this musical was likewise penned by Meredith Willson.
Willson could always provide a good musical celebration, and his adaptation of Valentine Davies' 1947 novella/film is no exception. Though the score isn't as contagious as that of The Music Man or The Unsinkable Molly Brown – also Willson's – it's upbeat and tuneful and features many of the composer's trademark stylings. But it's another element common to Music Man and Miracle that provides the true highlight of the Palace's staging: kids. Though not one trombone is toted (let alone 76), nor any "think method" for learning music employed, the youngest cast members do parade around the stage with aplomb, serving up holiday cheer to beat the band. Of particular note is Anna Lucia Nastase, whose bubbly portrayal of Susan sparkles throughout.
Watching the kids at the Palace perform with such passion transported me back to the community theatre in Ohio where I realized my own love for theatre. I was 11 years old and one of two children performing in the ensemble of Brigadoon that summer; it remains one of my most treasured theatrical memories. I felt that same excitement and passion flowing from the Palace stage, as the kids confidently sang their parts and had such fun executing the choreography of frequent Palace collaborators Danny Herman and Rocker Verastique. As I can attest from my experience in Brigadoon, this is one of the many miracles of community theatre.
Unfortunately, this was a Miracle in peril. The projector malfunctioned for the first quarter of the show, the lighting was dim (possibly owing to the use of projections), and the acting often piled on too thick. The set changes weren't as clean as they might have been, and the band experienced some major hiccups. But even in the midst of these shortcomings, adults and kids alike – both onstage and in the audience – bonded in an experience that was clearly magical for them, and everyone appeared to be having a wonderful time. No one, onstage or off, seemed too worried about achieving perfection. This was community theatre, after all – and although that label sometimes manifests itself prominently in productions without the resources of career performers and crew members, there's something truly miraculous about creating theatre wholly for the love – and communion – of it.
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