Catasauqua Press

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Theater Review: A ‘Miracle’ message at The Pines

Friday, December 16, 2016 by CAROLE GORNEY Special to The Press in Focus

You might think it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but not if you are Clara, the lead character in “The Miracle of Christmas,” the original holiday production that runs through Dec. 23 at the Pines Dinner Theatre, 448 N. 17th St., Allentown.

Clara, the quintessential pre-teen with an iPhone “growing” out of her hand, is played convincingly by talented sixth-grade actor Amanda Rose Kiplia, who aptly captures her character’s sulking moods, indifference and self-absorption. Clara is bored with her life, bored with Christmas and absolutely opposed to visiting her family in Vermont for the holidays because they are “totally uncool.”

Kiplia is on stage during most of the play, which was reviewed Nov. 19, and she more than holds her own with the other six adult cast members who play her family, and also double as other not-so secondary characters who help Clara learn the real meaning of Christmas. The energetic ensemble players work well together, singing and dancing their way through classic carols and beautiful original melodies.

“The Miracle of Christmas” is written and directed by Pines Dinner Theatre Artistic Director Oliver Blatt, with additional original music, lyrics and orchestrations by Blatt, Jason Michael and Stacy Bechtel.

In his script, Blatt creates the perfect family that despite not having been together for 10 years, blends seamlessly into the holiday spirit. The family engages in every holiday activity, from baking cookies to sleigh-riding, and of course, going into the woods to cut down a Christmas tree.

This “ultimate Christmas experience” involves a humorous and perceptive scene in act one featuring Clara and her uncle Rudy (James Ofalt). The quest for the perfect tree is, as Clara predicts, doomed to failure, but the pursuit is well worth watching.

Two Santa Land guards with Russian accents (Zach Petrovich and Ofalt) provide some of the show’s best comedy. In their red and white uniforms, they are reminiscent of toy soldiers, which makes one wonder if it is a coincidence that Clara’s namesake is the heroine in the “Nutcracker” ballet. There is also a feeling of “Oz” in the air.

Clara’s mother Stephanie (Stacey Yoder) and uncle Nick (Dan Baker) are charming in the scene where they go outdoors and look up at the sky to find the Star of Bethlehem. What a lovely family tradition.

Sandy (Lori Ann Sword) and Stephanie (Yoder) sing beautifully together in the very moving last scene about the meaning of Christmas. When they sing as a trio with Brittany (Sarah Catherine Carter), it is a glorious blending of voices.

Blatt’s first act does have an abundance of traditional Christmas carols, and occasional moments of over-the-top holiday cheer that might make one tempted to side with Clara. In the end, however, “Miracle” delivers a thoughtful message for the season. Adults may have heard the message before, but they may need reminding. Young people may not have heard it or ignored it. It is a message everyone should hear.