BENTON The Royal Players will present Meredith Willson’s Miracle on 34th Street, The Musical at the Royal Theatre in December. With book, music and lyrics by Willson, the production is based on the 20th Century Fox movie Miracle on 34th Street, with story by Valentine Davies and screenplay by George Seaton.
Evening performances will be presented at 7 p.m. on Dec. 5-7 and Dec. 12-14, with matinees scheduled for 2 p.m. Dec. 8 and 15. Tickets are $15 for general admission; $12 for senior citizens 60 and older, members of the military and college students with a valid ID; and $6 for students in the 12th grade and below. Tickets are available at theroyalplayers.ticketleap.com and theroyaltheatre.org. Call (501) 315-5483 for more information.
This production is sponsored by the Jeff Mattingly Foundation and First Security Bank, with an additional partnership with Just Ice Cream.
The musical is directed by Matthew Burns of Benton, with music direction by Heidi McCartney of Little Rock, choreography by Brooke Finley of Bryant and stage management by Ryan Mitchem of Benton. Phoebe Earles of Haskell is the producer.
Burns said the musical tells the familiar story of Doris Walker, a divorcee and driven career woman who works as a special-event coordinator for Macy’s Department Store in New York City during its heyday right after World War II, and her young daughter, Susan. Neither of them believes in Santa or the magic of Christmas, but Fred Gaily, the Marine next door, is determined to change their lives if he can only soften Doris’ heart. At the same time, Kris Kringle is determined to help everyone in New York find the true meaning of Christmas.
“My vision going into this show was that of a story book … where we have an older Susan … sitting onstage the whole time, reading this story book about her life and realizing how far she has come and how the course of her life has changed her,” said Burns, who is a longtime supporter of the Royal Players, as both a director and an actor.
“I really wanted to keep the aspect of family and humanity in the show because family is important to all of us, and I feel like some will find something and latch onto it and fall in love with it. With this show, the stage is set up in such a way that it looks like the show is happening as it is falling out of a book and onto the stage,” he said.
“For me, it hasn’t been much of a challenge to direct such a well-known story because I feel like it has brought me into the moments more … when I’m having these beautiful moments on stage. This show has been such a dream to do because the cast has been so cooperative in rehearsals, with blocking and character choices. Being a photographer has made me look at the show in a whole new light and see these wonderful picture moments that could possibly be right out of a Hallmark movie,” Burns said.
“With directing this show, having kids in it hasn’t been much of a challenge,” he said, noting that there is a large number of young people in the production. “I have worked on multiple productions with the Young Players (the youth division of Royal Players Inc.), so I knew most of the kids before they got cast in the show. I feel like that has helped me a lot with directing and having these great moments with the cast in making this show happen.”
Burns said since one of the themes of the show is the importance of family, for the first time, the Royal Theatre offers a cast of actors and crew that includes multiple family connections. These actors include the following:
• Four generations — Phyllis Pridgen of Benton as the older Susan with her daughter Gwen Garland as a member of the ensemble, granddaughter Jennifer Wells of Benton as Mrs. Finfer and great-granddaughter Mary Grace Wells of Benton, who is in the dance ensemble.
• Fathers and daughters — Greg Blacklaw, who plays Kris Kringle, and his daughter, Hannah Blacklaw, both of Alexander, who is a member of the ensemble, and Josh Bond of Benton, who plays R.H Macy, the boss at Macy’s, and his daughter, Lauren Bond, also of Benton, who is a member of the ensemble.
• A stepgrandfather and stepgrandchildren — Larry Lapaglia of Bryant, who plays Thomas Mara Sr., the district attorney, and his stepgrandchildren, Braden Lisowe and his sister, Amelia Lisowe, both of Benton. Braden is a member of the dance ensemble, and Amelia appears as the young Susan Walker.
• Sisters — Katharine Crowe of Benton, who is captain of the dance ensemble, and Bella Crowe, also of Benton, who is a member of the dance ensemble; and Kaylei Taylor and her twin sister, Kenzie Taylor, both of Little Rock, who are members of the dance ensemble.
• Father and son — Andy Goldthorpe and his son, Beau Goldthorpe, both of Glen Rose, who are members of the ensemble.
• Brother and sister — Seth Nuss of Bauxite, who is a member of the dance ensemble, and Sarah Nuss, also of Bauxite, who is a member of the ensemble.
• Daughters and mothers — Cadence Earles of Haskell, who plays the little Dutch girl Henrika, is a daughter of Phoebe Earles, also of Haskell, who is the producer of this musical, and Reagan McCartney of Little Rock, who is a member of the dance ensemble, is a daughter of the musical director, Heidi McCartney.
“Casting just fell in such a great way to have all of these family connections,” Burns said.
He said the music for this show “is interesting because there are some songs like ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’ that people will recognize, but some that people won’t recognize, like ‘Here’s Love’ and ‘Pinecones and Hollyberries’ that audiences will fall in love with.”
Additional cast members include the following:
• Skyla Conger of Haskell, who appears as Doris Walker.
• Jonathon Sadler of Benton as Fred Gaily.
• Paul Hiblong of Benton as Marvin Shellhammer, the junior executive and head of public relations at Macy’s Department Store.
• Ron Biancardi of Benton as Judge Martin Group, a judge on the U.S. Supreme Court.
• Tim Huddleston of Benton as Mr. Sawyer, the psychologist at Macy’s.
• Jamie Partain of Benton as Miss Crookshank, the secretary for Mr. Sawyer.
• Chris Owen of Traskwood as Tammany O’Halloran, a political boss.
• Keenan Smith of Benton as Alvin, Hayden Griffis of Bauxite as Whitey and Jesse Kneisler of Benton as Climber, Fred Gaily’s Marine friends.
• Donovan Battie of Benton as Johnny, one of the children visiting Santa.
• Denver Allen of Maumelle as Harry Finfer, another of the young children visiting Santa.
Additional members of the ensemble include Ava Tillery of Alexander; and Frankie Goldman, Rylee Woodard and Madison Cunningham, all of Benton.
Additional members of the dance ensemble include Hannah-Grace Fritz, Alex Smith and Anna DePelsMaeker, all of Benton.
Meredith Willson’s Miracle on 34th Street, The Musical is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International. For more information, visit the website www.mtishows.com.