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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Laberge

Pro ensemble boosts child star - Forte Theatre Company

Christmastime is the season for classics, and nothing embodies returning to one's roots like reviving a previous success. Forte Theatre Company returns to the live stage for the first time since COVID-19, and in doing so, stages their 2019 hit production of Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play again. The performance invites back some original cast and welcomes in some newcomers, making this a joy for audiences old and new.

Lydia Rose Eiche, King Hang, Leah Gawel, and Joey Chelius in Miracle on 34th Street.

Romantic leads Joey Chelius and Leah Gawel appear again this year, reprising their same roles from the inaugural 2019 production. They continue to bring the very elements that set them apart before - Chelius's charm, Gawel's poise - but seem to have even improved since their last appearance. Gawel's vocals especially shine with new fervor this year. Her jazzy tone is understated yet impeccably dialed in.

Layla Katers as Susan Walker.

The real star of this show is Layla Katers, who brings little Susan Walker to life. This performance is truly perfection. A student of Forte's young training program, Katers doesn't only hold a candle to the adult professionals she plays against - she is the light. She sparkles opposite Robert A Zimmerman's Kris Kringle. Both calculated and energized, Katers delivers the full range of the character's development from practical to a fault to inspired by belief. Every second with her onstage is excellence - no doubt she can turn even the coldest hearts warm this holiday.

Rounding out the cast are returning Lydia Rose Eiche and Forte newcomer King Hang, filling a wide range of character roles throughout the piece. Eiche has a real knack for voices and brings over-the-top flair to each role she steps into. Hang has a slightly subtler approach, but has a sunny demeanor that comes through his every appearance. Always to audience delight, music director Ryan Cappleman strides over from his piano every now and again for a bit of comedy gold.

Robert A. Zimmerman (foreground) as Kris Kringle.

The stage is set as an old recording studio, which pulls audiences into the world of the radio play and allows them to experience the show from within the story as well as appreciate it from a creator's perspective. The piece is packed with era-reminiscent radio jingles, all the way down to the commercials. Every moment of the performance is dripping with dated appeal.

Randall Dodge has, yet again, brought festivity and bliss to the stage with Miracle on 34th Street. The show gives kitsch and humor without ever sacrificing quality and heart. Catch it through December 24th at the Fine Arts Center, Martin Luther High School.

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