Thursday, December 10, 2015

KRIS KRINGLE THE MUSICAL—a work in progress

KRIS KRINGLE THE MUSICAL, based on Maria Ciampi’s screenplay and book, KRIS KRINGLE, tells the tale of what happens when an evil toy company CEO crosses paths with a jobless toy maker whose family name carries a curse with the power to destroy Christmas.  In the process of the tale, Christmas Spirit, Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, a group of Elves, and magical toys sing and dance some new holiday tunes.

The script has been showcased in New York, Washington, D.C. and, is in its world premiere staging at Olmsted Performing Arts Center, in what the producers are hoping will lead to a Broadway run.

Evaluating a new show requires an examination of the writing and format of the script (Maria Ciampi) and the music (Tim Janis), as well as such production elements as the staging, script shaping, and performances as conceived by director Pierre Brault, as well as the singing and musical performances as guided by musical director Charles Eversole.

 Andrew Lloyd Webber once said, “A well structured musical is one in which the songs and dancing flow smoothly into a well-developed story.” Think of MY FAIR LADY, FIDDLE ON THE ROOF or OKLAHOMA.  All are recognized as well-developed musicals.  The songs, the script and the dancing meld together into a single purpose-based unit.

Unfortunately, Ciampi’s script and Janis’s music don’t always mesh.  The musical numbers seem to have been dropped into the story.  Few push the plot along.  The music itself, though often quite pretty, was not memorable, nor was there a dynamic concluding song which usually sends the audience out of the theatre humming and excited.

Some of the choreographic numbers flowed nicely into the story, others begged to be eliminated as they seemed to be present only to give all the kids in the cast something to do.  There was much redundancy in the steps, weakness of creativity, and chaos in some numbers due to the plethora of dancers.

At almost an hour and a half, the show’s opening act is longer than the total stage time of many new plays.  The second act, fortunately, is shorter, and works much better than the opening stanza in both story and song development. 

If this is a show which is aimed at  children, as evidenced by the squirming little bodies on opening night, the sitting time is too long and the story line didn’t hold attention.

As for the production itself.  The actors playing and singing major roles are all excellent.  Mark Shirilla was very appealing as Kris Kringle, creating not only a real person, but displaying strong singing, comedy and dancing abilities.  The adorable Natalie Green was charming as Evelyn Noel, Kris’s “girl friend.”

Greg Violand, he of big voice, flowing white beard and confident stage presence, was Santa-perfect. (The little boy sitting in front of me wanted to know if he could sit on Santa’s lap.) Kristin Netzband was endearing as Mrs. Claus. 

Michael Mauldin made for an acceptable “bad guy” as R. G. Reedy.  Maryann Nagel led us nicely through the tale as Christmas Spirit, a type of Greek Chorus.  Amy Fritsche was real as Ms. Horn.   Brian Marshall as Elmer, the trouble making head-elf, does what Brian does best--develop a harassable, charming and over-exaggerated character. 

The large supporting cast often made the staging look like a chaotic flow of traffic…purposeless as to the plot.  The numerous parents, grandparents and assorted relatives and friends were probably thrilled to see their kids on stage, and the producers must be happy with the revenue that was produced, but that should not have been their purpose in appearing in the show.  In addition, realistically, if this was a show heading for Broadway, the very number of bodies would mean an excessive payroll if they were all going to be paid Equity salaries (a Great White Way requirement). 

Visually, Frankie Teuber’s set design was attractive and practical.  Scott Chapman’s lighting design was hampered by errant spotlight operators and the constantly changing snow flake designs on the proscenium curtains which distracted from the action on stage and did little to highlight plot ideas.  PJs Puppets were well-crafted. 

Musical Director Eversole did a yeoman’s job of polishing the sounds of the chorus and individual vocalists, as well as insuring that the well-tuned orchestra supported rather drowned out the singers.

Capsule judgment: Though the intentions were pure, KRIS KRINGLE THE MUSICAL is not a polished product.  It is a script in process.  It needs cutting, reshaping and focusing in order for it to fill the void for a much needed holiday play for community and professional theatres.  The score needs to be reevaluated with the addition of some signature songs and a rousing finale. The staging, though showcasing excellent talent among the lead performers, was often visually chaotic due to an over-large cast and unfocused blocking. An excess of dance numbers, some of which did not advance the plot, slowed down the production and added unneeded time to the show.

Tickets for KRIS KRINGLE, THE MUSICAL, which runs through December 13, 2015, can be purchased through the Olmsted Performing Arts Center by calling 440-235-6722.  To see the schedule of performances go to
The theatre is located at 6941 Columbia Road, Olmsted Falls.