'Kris Kringle, The Musical' Overloads Simple Christmas Arc with Dense, Distracting Plot

Does the world need a new Christmas stage musical? Hell, why not? The ones we have are getting a little shopworn about now. But does the world need a musical entertainment that, even with all its wonderful and heartfelt intentions, is the theatrical equivalent of The Island of Misfit Toys. Well, probably not.

The authors of Kris Kringle, The Musical, now having its world premiere at Olmsted Performing Arts, are mostly to blame. Maria Ciampi (book) and Tim Janis (music and lyrics) are no doubt splendid people with hearts of gold. And we wish them all the best, good health, and joy this holiday season. But the fact is their new show, which is opening here in Cleveland and has aspirations of landing on Broadway, is about as enjoyable as a large ball of melted tinsel—sparkly and colorful to the eye but dense, lumpy, and rather sad inside.
However, this is the Christmas season! So let’s begin with the good news, or what there is of it. The basic idea of this apparently high-budget family show has potential. A young toy inventor, named Kris Kringle, gets crosswise with an evil toy company boss until he bonds with his grandfather, Santa, and everything turns out great. If only Ciampi’s tale were that simple.
Turns out, Kringle is fired by the profit-hungry toy magnate R. G. Reedy (as we are informed, it can be pronounced “Are Greedy.” Ho, ho…huh?) and then Kris gets a job at Santa’s workshop and he's happy because that’s where they give toys away, and he makes a wonderful toy that “can teach troubled hearts to be free,” but then he faces the Kringle Curse that makes people freeze and it can destroy Christmas and—wait! I haven’t told you yet about Ms. Emma Horn, who was the head elf at the workshop but now she’s working for Reedy, while the current head elf, Elmer, schemes to mess up Kringle’s plans. Hold on! There are also the magic boots that Ms. Horn wears, as does Elmer, who has a few doppelgangers who sing a song with him, and apparently Reedy’s shoes also have magic powers. Stop! Did I tell you that Reedy is related to Santa, whose wife really runs the North Pole, or that Kringle meets Evelyn Noel who teaches Santa’s apprentices how to be elves or that…Halt!
If this partial rundown of the plot sounds confusing, condensed as it is, it’s no more explicable in the slightly more than two-hour show. Indeed, the narrator (helpfully named Christmas Spirit) comes on stage now and then to offer further exposition. In sum, Kringle is a mash-up of too many complicated plot elements with a too on-the-nose presentation of its themes. Janis’ songs are loaded with specific and literal statements about “bright and sunny days,” and “be all I can be,” and “don’t ever stop believing.” Even little kids in the audience can handle a little more subtlety than that. Then the show concludes with a song about forgiveness which is titled “Forgiveness” and has characters repeatedly singing “I forgive you!” at each other. Okay, got it.
One flaw this show doesn’t have is a weak cast, since many of the area’s finest actors and singers are on stage. But even proven performers such as Natalie Green, Greg Violand, Michael Mauldin, Kristin Netzband and Brian Marshall can’t save this sentimental folderol from itself. In the title role former BW student from Cleveland, Mack Shirilla, is an endearing and sympathetic Kris Kringle. But sadly, their best efforts go for naught when the halting, pedestrian melodies are linked, often awkwardly and in a forced manner, to the repetitive lyrics. And then it’s all hitched to a story as complicated as an early draft of Ulysses.
There are a couple cute lines, such as when Elmer is eavesdropping on others talking about him and he whispers to an elf, “Do you hear what I hear!?” But those rare slivers of wit only serve to highlight how the rest of the show pounds you over the head with a two-by-four with its message.
Clearly, many dollars and much energy have been expended on this enterprise. And the accomplished director Pierre Jacques-Brault and noted musical director Charles Eversole do what they can to keep the huge cast of 40-plus adults and kids rolling. But this Christmas-kluge-on-wheels probably shouldn’t be going anywhere, least of all Broadway, as it is currently constituted. 
Kris Kringle, The Musical
Through December 13 at Olmsted Performing Arts, 6941 Columbia Road, Olmsted Falls.

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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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