Music & Lyrics by Michael Mahler
Based on the Susan Wojciechowski’s book
Directed by Timothy Gregory
Music Director Nicholas Davio
Choreographer Timothy Gregory & Molly Curry
Heartwarming sweet original musical is destined to be another Chicago holiday tradition.
Tim Gregory found a wonderful Children’s book (and film) and with the help of Michael Mahler turned it into a warm new holiday show destined to become another Chicago holiday tradition. Yes, I’m delighted to state that The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Tooney is an enchanting 75 minute holiday musical that kids will cherish and adults will admire.
Based on Susan Wojciechowski’s popular children’s book, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Tooney sweetly deals with miracles of the heart that seem to manifest themselves during the Christmas holidays.
Set in the late 19th Century in rural America, Toomey finds a mother, Sarah (Lia Mortensen) and her ten year old son Thomas (Michael Saguto) arrive from the city to their Aunt Mary’s (Mary Redmon) farm. The gloomy Thomas misses his dead father and his melancholy deepens when he loses his wood-carver nativity scene set given to him by his father. Thomas connects with his father via that Christmas set.
While adjusting to life in rural America, Thomas meets a group of children that challenge him in many ways including telling him to be aware of the ill-tempered woodcarver, Jonathan Toomey (James Rank). The kids tell mythical stories about the recluse woodcarver. When Sarah takes Thomas to Toomey’s house to ask him to take a commission to carve a new set of nativity characters. Toomey rudely declines. But Sarah eventually gets Toomey to not only carve the figures but allow and teach Thomas how to carve while she observes. The three form a unique bond as all the hearts throughout. The more Thomas makes greater demands of Toomey’s abilities, the deeper the unspoken bond becomes. As Christmas approaches, the three struggle to come to terms with each other, their painful memories, and the process of putting their unhappiness behind them.
Filled with folk/country/bluegrass music from a four piece jug string band with Amanda Batterson on violin, Zachary Draper on guitar, Steve Martin on banjo and Steven Manns on standup bass, Toomey is a major triumph for composer/lyricist Michael Mahler. He uses bluegrass style wonderfully as he creates moving anthems, stirring ballads and cute rhyming kids song to enhance the story. The tone is set with the opening tune “When The World Turns Cold” sung by the entire ensemble.
Next, we see the kids telling Thomas “I’m Thinkin’ of Something” through a witty rhyming song deftly sung by the children. Sara tries to teach Thomas about all the miracles around him in the touching “There Are Miracle All Around.” During the scene changes, cast members sing original holiday songs adding a nice spirit to the production.
Mary Redmon as Aunt Mary playfully sings a warning not to listen to rumors. We hear the strong-voiced James Rank as Toomey lament his grief as he sings “These Hands.” Rank’s agony depicts a broken heart at the death six years earlier of his wife and baby. When Toomey, Sarah and Thomas finally bond, they sing the “Carving Song.”
As Christmas nears, we see the town at the holiday service when Toomey arrives to present something special and to sing “Toomey’s Epiphany,” proving that purpose, commitment, love and acceptance can mend a broken heart all around and that miracle of the heart can happen. The town’s folks rejoice with a wonderful spiritual tune “There’s A Light in The Winter.”
Michael Mahler’s music and expert lyrics elevate Toomey from a nice little children’s show to a deeply artistic holiday musical. This maybe Mahler’s finest score for a musical. Making folk/bluegrass music work in a musical is no small accomplishment but Mahler has done so. At 75 minutes, Toomey is a compact yet complete story that will warm your heart with its simple beauty and honesty. Take all the children in your family to see this sweet show. They’ll enjoy seeing other kids especially 8th grader Michael Saguto carry the show. Lia Mortensen and James Rank anchor this tuneful show. I believe if enough folks see The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, it’ll take its rightful place as a Chicago holiday show next to A Christmas Carol and The Christmas Schooner.
BTY, come early to hear a 15 minute bluegrass concert including bluegrass renditions of Christmas songs by the four member jug band – you’ll be glad you did- this group is a treat!
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: November 26, 2011
At Provisoin Theatre, 1001 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL, www.provisiontheater.org, tickets $10 – $30, group discounts, Wednesdays at 10 am, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm. sundaes at 3pm, running time is 75 minutes without intermission, through December 23, 2011