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What a terrific 2019 season at Thousand Oaks’ Conejo Players. We’ve taken magical journeys to the beyond with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Jr., been mentally stimulated with Pippin and laughed our socks off with Don’t Dress for Dinner. So it is with delight I was invited to the charming Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play before it closes on 15 December 2019.
Miracle on 34th Street (adapted from the 1947 Lux Radio Broadcast by Lance Arthur Smith) with original songs and arrangements by Jon Lorenz is holiday nostalgia at its best. Featuring a story that many of us grew up with Kris Kringle (Ray Mastrovito) is a last minute replacement for Drunk Santa (Jason Kirkpatrick) at MACY’s bringing joy and some Christmas belief to divorcee Doris Walker (Brenda White) and her daughter Susan (Julia Kirkpatrick) before being threatened with being institutionalized by the show’s antagonist, Mr. Sawyer (Larry Swartz) in the trial of the season where he is represented by Doris’ suitor, Fred Gaily (Jim Holmes) in Gary Saxer‘s courtroom.
A CAST OF FRIENDS AND FAMILY:
What makes this “live musical radio play” so delightful is that it cleverly invites the audience into the intimate radio recording studio where we meet the supporting cast of MC Zach Spencer, John Eslick as the quintessential Foley Artist (and voice of Shellhammer and Thomas Mara), Gary and Shelley Saxer, Devery Holmes and Joey Grady in the Quartet and Stephanie Harris as the female character artist.
And what a cast! Featuring three families (Jim/Devery Holmes, Gary/Shelley Saxer, Jason/Julia Kirkpatrick) and long time friends of Conejo Players Theatre adds to the charm of the show. There is a hominess and warmth that cannot be done justice by words alone.
And the children carolers that opened the show (Mia Brown “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang JR” and Kaylee Fajardo) alongside Julia Kirkpatrick were too stinking cute in their festive outfits and enthusiasm.
THE SHOW HIGHLIGHTS:
Those who know the now classic movie versions of Miracle on 34th Street featuring Edmund Gwenn, Thomas Mitchell, Ed Wynn, and Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle will have to agree Ray Mastrovito is a perfect addition to the list of actors who’ve played Kris Kringle. He has a twinkle to those eyes especially in interactions with young Julia Kirkpatrick (the famous monkey scene is precious) and Joey Grady at MACY’S.
It is a joy to see Jim Holmes on stage after regularly being behind the scenes as music director (a role he doubles for this show) and what a fine voice he has! He shines with the best and most memorable of the new original numbers “A Little Make Believe” (with Brown) and “Don’t Let Us Down” (with Mastrovito). [Side note: We’ve had the terrific Saxer family concerts. Can we please have a Holmes family show?]
Brenda White‘s Doris Walker is refined (similar to Maureen O’Hara and Elizabeth Perkins) and yet it is her gorgeous singing that really wins the audience over and had my girlfriend gushing at intermission. I personally thought her jovial second act “Jazzy Halls” had me smiling from ear to ear.
Musically, the quartet was charming, led by soprano “Olivia Glatt” (Devery Holmes), who shines in the hilarious commercial ads for Tupperware and Camel Cigarettes, and Wallace Ainsley (Gary Saxer), who gets a chance to show off his baritone in “Rest Ye Merry, Gents”.
JOHN ESLICK and JOEY GRADY:
The two scene stealers of the night were Joey Grady who previously knocked it out of the park as a Gangster in Simi Art’s Drowsy Chaperone and John Eslick (2019 Nominee for Best Director of “Don’t Dress for Dinner“) who must have comedy etched into his bones.
Grady is not only a part of the quartet but gets to really shine in his vocal talents as Alfred, Mortimer (a boy who visits Santa) and Tommy (ADA Mara’s son). Armed with only a wardrobe of different hats to differentiate the characters, he reminded this reviewer why I loved him so much in Drowsy Chaperone. He effortlessly exudes charisma and hilarity doing a great job with the different voices.
Eslick, another talent who’s been hiding behind the scenes, was my favorite of the night as he played the “Foley Artist” doing all the sound effects on stage left while also providing the vocal talents for Shellhammer and ADA Thomas Mara. Having grown up listening to plays on radio and cassette tape, it was so fun to see the sound effects in action so to speak. And kudos to Costumer Betty Fuhrmann who (unintentionally?) dressed Eslick up like Father Brown‘s Mark Williams. With his time appropriate cap (similar one here) and pull over sweater vest, Eslick looked like a natural who belonged in the sound booth.
Sadly the 2019 season has ended but the 2020 season sounds fabulous with 5 main stage productions in addition to their Conejo Artists Theatre and Conejo Players Youth Theare productions making it a total of 9 shows (most are family appropriate!)
You Can’t Take it With You
January 10- February 1
Directed by Alan Wasserman. Cast to feature Briana Bauer, Alex Carrasco and Vivian Latham.
Auditions (18+ only): December 28 – 30
Featuring choreography by Award-Winning Miriam Durrie-Kirsch
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Conejo Artists Theatre: April 10-19
Auditions: January 26-28
Musical Direction by Susan Treworgy Calkins
The Music Man Jr.
Youth Theatre: May 1-9
Auditions: March 3-5
May 29- June 20
Auditions: March 15-17
Here’s hoping we get John Eslick to reprise his Four Star Theatre Award winning performance.
Bye Bye Birdie
Mainstage: July 24- August 14
Auditions: May 3-5
Directed by Devery Holmes with Music Direction by Shelley Saxer and Choreography by Mirriam Durrie-Kirsch
Youth Theatre: August 22-30
Auditions: June 7-9
Directed by Beth Eslick and Choreographed by Briana Bauer and Music Direction by Michael Kronenberg.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Conejo Artists Theatre: October 2-11
Auditions: July 26-28
Directed by Tanner Redman (son-in-law of Shelley and Gary Saxer)
9 to 5 the musical (with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton)
November 13 – December 4
Auditions: August 31-September 2
Directed by Erin Fagundes
You can buy season and single tickets at the CPT box office or online!
I know I’m especially hoping to see Harvey, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The Music Man, Bye Bye Birdie and 9 to 5. What show are you most excited about for the 2020 season?
Last edited: 16 December 2019