A Miracle on 34th Street Classic Radiocast

Penfold Theatre's well-executed show is old-fashioned in both the entertainment it re-creates and its sense of community

On the air!: The cast of <i>A Miracle on 34th Street Classic Radiocast</i>
On the air!: The cast of A Miracle on 34th Street Classic Radiocast (photo courtesy of Kimberley Mead)

A Miracle on 34th Street Classic Radiocast

Old Settlers Hall, 3300 East Palm Valley Blvd., Round Rock
www.penfoldtheatre.org
Through Dec. 27
Running time: 1 hr., 45 min.

It's the most wonderful time of the year: that time when Austinites scamper about in search of Christmas cheer, and theatre-makers do their best to stage classic yet innovative productions that help create a winter wonderland in our sunny city. One holiday staple for many is a viewing of A Miracle on 34th Street, the heartwarming tale of Kris Kringle, the department store Santa Claus who just might be the real deal. Though many have a soft spot for the 1947 film (or perhaps even the 1994 remake), it's a safe bet that they've never seen an iteration quite like Penfold Theatre's. The Old Settlers Hall in Round Rock is dressed to transport audience members to radio studios of yore: black curtain backdrops, a Foley table, three vintage microphones, and even a light-up 'Applause' sign. The actors play (or voice, really) a myriad of roles, and even do double duty providing the majority of the production's sound effects. This mostly bygone form of entertainment lends an added air of nostalgia to the story while still managing to create a fresh feel for the familiar material. It's pretty plain to see why Penfold might choose this route (after three years of successfully staging It's a Wonderful Life in the same fashion): fewer actors, no costume changes, blocking, or set pieces to contend with. But just because this production errs on the side of reader's theatre doesn't mean Penfold is cutting corners.

When subtracting the flair that elaborate production elements might contribute to a show, we're left relying on the story itself and on the actors to, in this case, serve as Santa's elves, building the Christmas magic. The adaptation by Nathan Jerkins, Penfold associate artistic director and director of this production, adheres closely to the film and translates well for this project; but, as the saying goes, the key to a successful production lies largely in casting, and the strong casting is integral to this Miracle's success. This production especially would fail if not for the incredible talent of Sarah Marie Curry, Brock England, Julie Linnard, and Joe Hartman – vocal chameleons all, using only aural variations to create the majority of the characters in this charming tale. The only actor portraying the same role throughout is Dirk Van Allen, who makes for a convincing Saint Nick – so convincing, in fact, that you can't help but pity the jolly old soul as he's almost institutionalized by a bunch of hardhearted, faithless Scrooges.

The production cleverly includes "commercial breaks," funny bits that serve as shout-outs for some of its sponsors while maintaining the vibe of a traditional radio program. These references to local businesses were a lovely representation of the overall feeling of community that this show promotes. The audience seemed to me a mixture of many types: the very young child sipping hot chocolate and cheering for Kris Kringle, the elderly couple perhaps reliving Christmases past, those for whom the film version may be a longstanding tradition, avid theatregoers, and locals looking for a unique way to celebrate the season were all among those in attendance. As Kris Kringle reminds us, "Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind," and Penfold's well-executed production encourages the very sense of togetherness to help us get there.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Penfold Theatre Company
Penfold Theatre's <i>Crime and Punishment</i>
Penfold Theatre's Crime and Punishment
In this stage adaptation of Dostoevsky's novel, a fascinating glimpse into the more twisted corners of the human mind

Elizabeth Cobbe, April 5, 2019

Doctuh Mistuh and Penfold Theatre's <i>Nevermore</i>
Doctuh Mistuh and Penfold Theatre's Nevermore
In Jonathan Christenson's musical, Edgar Allan Poe's life is imagined as a spooky, entrancing dance of the spirits

Robert Faires, Nov. 2, 2018

More Arts Reviews
Zach Theatre's <i>The Ballad of Klook and Vinette</i>
Zach Theatre's The Ballad of Klook and Vinette
In tracking one couple's affair, this production shows us how love is an imperfect art

Trey Gutierrez, May 17, 2019

<i>Terminator: The Musical</i> at Fallout Theater
Terminator: The Musical at Fallout Theater
This is exactly the sort of loving parody of nuclear apocalypse and time-traveling AI everyone should experience at least once

M. Brianna Stallings, May 17, 2019

More by Elissa Russell
<i>Forever Plaid</i>
Forever Plaid
Austin Theatre Project's staging of the popular musical hits all the right notes

Aug. 28, 2015

<i>Into the Woods</i>
Into the Woods
Summer Stock Austin's talented teens tease out the enchantment in Sondheim's magical musical

Aug. 7, 2015

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Penfold Theatre Company, A Miracle on 34th Street Classic Radiocast, Nathan Jerkins, Dirk Van Allen, Brock England, Sarah Marie Curry, Joe Hartman, Julie Linnard

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle