The Christmas Miracle
of Jonathan Toomey
A heartwarming Christmas musical
|Provision Theater presents|
|The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey|
Review by Keith Glab
Based on an award-winning children’s book by Susan Wojciechowski, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey returns to Provision Theater after a successful run last winter. Provision has brought back a large portion of the ensemble from last year’s musical, including James Rank as Jonathan Toomey.
Known as “Gloomy Toomey” by the children of a small town, Jonathan Toomey is a Boo Radley-esque wood carver who was sent into a deep depression following the deaths of his wife and son. As the occasion for our story, Sarah McDowell (Susan Moniz) and her son Thomas (Gabriel Stern) move to this town shortly before Christmas following the passing of Thomas’ father. During their journey, a wooden nativity scene given to Thomas by his father got lost. With Thomas in mourning and struggling with the town bully (Michael Jostes), Sarah makes it her mission to get the sullen Toomey to re-create the nativity scene for her son.
Rank truly excels as Toomey. As written, the character could easily have been played as an Ebenezer Scrooge caricature who says “pish posh” instead of “bah humbug.” Rank instead makes Toomey into an understated, believable, and complex individual, capable of making the audience despise him one minute and sympathize with him the next. He has the vocal talents to act as the lead in a musical with quite a bit of room to spare.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Moniz. Her five-rows-deep voice doesn’t match the rest of the talented ensemble, and it sounds especially out of place in her duets with Rank. Her acting ability is not strong enough to atone for any shortcomings in the vocal department, either. As Moniz is the only Provision Theater company member in the cast, it is hard to view her assumption of this lead role as anything other than nepotism.
Meanwhile, the children’s ensemble of eight astounds with their talents. Director Timothy Gregory trusts these kids to carry the action alone onstage for substantial portions of the play, and they are up to the task. From fight choreography to musical numbers, the children’s ensemble establishes their characters and makes them believable. As Janie, Sophie Thatcher appears to be the oldest of the group, and she is well on her way to becoming a polished professional actress.
Several technical aspects of the production deserve some applause. A folk quartet entertains the audience until curtain and continues to accompany the actors in a partially-secluded corner upstage-right. Inseung Park expands upon his acclaimed set design from last year’s show, giving the wooded valley added depth and allowing for seamless transitions with elaborate, mobile set pieces for Toomey’s cabin. The costumes are simple, yet both aesthetically pleasing and appropriate.
While there’s a lot to like about The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, the show might be too static for children to fully enjoy. Moreover, labeling the somewhat low-stakes resolution of this story as a “miracle” smacks of hyperbole. But this production succeeds as a simple, heartwarming story about three characters coming to grips with painful loss.
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey continues through December 23rd at Provision Theater, 1001 W. Roosevelt (map), with performances Wednesdays at 2pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $10-$32, and are available by phone (312-455-0066) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ProvisionTheater.org. (Running time: 85 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Megan Gallagher
James Rank (Jonathan Toomey), Susan Moniz (Sarah McDowell), Gabriel Stern (Thomas McDowell), Mary Redmon (Mary), Kevin O’Brien (Pastor), Jessica Thigpen (ensemble), Bill Chamberlain (George), Linden Clayborne (Bert), Nate Becker (James), Michael Jostes (Fred), Jack Edwards (Zachariah), Eden Elyse Strong (Lou), Sophie Thatcher (Janie), Chris Aruffo, Monica Szaflik, Lincoln Becker, Steven Lyons, Angela Alise Johnson, June Miller (ensemble); June Entwisle Miller, Lincoln Becker (understudies); Lindsey Spencer (Swing)
Amber Burgess (violin), Matt Deitchman (guitar), Steve Martin (banjo), Doug Jones (bass)
behind the scenes
Timothy Gregory (director, book); Michael Mahler (music director, composer); Matt Dietchman (music director); Inseung Park (set design); Mike Stanfill (lighting); Rossella Nitti (costumes); Constance Lee (costumes); Daniel Carlyon (sound design); John Gedeon (tech director); Kari Warning (stage manager); Alfredo Aguilar (production manager); Adam Veness (asst. technical director); Rebecca Willingham (asst. director); Priscilla Hummel (choreography); Mark Abrahamson (asst. stage manager); Megan Gallagher (photos)