REVIEW: Believe in the Timeless Magic of Avon Players’ ‘Miracle on 34th Street’

‘I’ll believe it when I see it.,’ is a famous phrase. Well, believe me when I say you will want to see Avon Players’ production of Miracle on 34th Street running now through Saturday, December 9, 2023, in Rochester Hills, Mich.

Avon Players last staged this show nearly a decade ago and it was refreshing to see the updates made to this production, while still staying true to the spirit of the story so many cherish. For those who may not know, there are two movie versions. The first is the 1947 classic starring the exquisite Maureen O’Hara and the precocious Natalie Wood. Then in 1994, John Hughes co-wrote and co-produced his more contemporary vision with Sir Richard Attenborough in the role of Kris Kringle.

Kris Kringle (Chris Stepnitz) and Susan Walker (Moxie Dubuc) from ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ Photo Credit: Bryan Clifford

Set in mid-century Manhattan, no-nonsense Doris Walker (Patty Hagel) doesn’t have time to entertain flights of fancy or a drunk Santa (Tim Falk) who is supposed to be representing Macy’s in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. As it turns out Kris Kringle (Chris Stepntiz) is also disgusted by the so-called Santa. Seeing an opportunity to save the day, Doris grabs Kris and makes him the new Macy’s Santa. No stranger to the Avon Players stage, Stepnitz is wonderful as Kris Kringle. He gives the character a presence I haven’t seen in the role before. This Kringle is smartly dressed in a pinstripe suit and conducts himself confidently, while still being approachable. In short, Stepnitz sells it. As one crisis is adverted, more begin to arise as those around Kris realize that he truly believes he’s the one and only Santa Claus.

In Kris’ corner are Dr. Pierce (Patrick Jordan), lawyer Fred Gailey (Peter Buccilli), and the elves. But these are not normal elves. Nope. They are scene-stealing elves! Caterina D’Angelo, Tessa Heiser, Emmie Maurer, and Charlotte Sutherland provide laughter, fun, and a pure holiday spirit every time they’re on stage. You mess with Santa; you mess with them. In the other corner are the doubters or the outright haters.

Judge Harper (Richard G. Marcil) and Finley (Jean Zott) look on as Mara (Kelli Williams) presents her case against Santa Claus in ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ at Avon Players Theatre. Photo credit: Bryan Clifford

Doris’ co-worker Shellhammer (Tara Makar-Dubuc) falls into the doubter category and Makar-Dubuc shines in this role. Her gestures, facial expressions, and timing give the character such life that she had the audience laughing with every line she uttered. As for the haters, Sawyer (Kelly Miller in her Avon Players’ debut) wins first place. Santa Claus may be too nice to hit a woman, but I’m not. That’s how convincing Miller portrayed the sneering store psychologist. And then there’s young Susan Walker (Moxie Dubuc). She wants to believe Fred and Kris, but thanks to her mother, she still has doubts. However, there is no doubt that Dubuc is perfect for as a young girl having to weigh what she knows against what she doesn’t in order to make up her mind on the matter.

As I mentioned earlier, there are two movie versions, and a major difference between them is the climactic courtroom scene with Judge Harper (Richard G. Marcil). Which one does Avon Players use in their show? You’ll have to snag a ticket to find out firsthand.

L to R: Emily Brown, Katelyn Hargrave, Jennifer Combs, and Tracy Murray entertain Kris Kringle (Chris Stepnitz) with their melodic vocals. Photo credit: Bryan Clifford

Another twist I loved about this production is that the roles of Shellhammer and Sawyer, Halloran (Ann Sweet), Finley (Jean Zott), and Mara (Kelli Williams) are all played by women. In the original movie, these were all male roles. I appreciated this female-forward casting – especially having Williams, an African American woman, portraying a prosecuting attorney in the ’40s. It was creative and gave the show great energy. Also, I cannot say enough about the quartet of Christmas Carolers. During scene changes and other pivotal moments in the show Emily Brown, Jennifer Combs, Katelyn Hargrave, and Tracy Murray captivated the audience with their beautifully blended voices. Rounding out this fantastic ensemble show are Mary-Grace Chirco, Lana Hastings, and Janis Jacob.

Matt Cason is the director/vocal director with choreography by Lana Hastings. Setting and light design are by John (JD) Deierlein, wig design by Kaitlyn Denzier, properties design by Sharon Jourdan, master carpentry by Mark Kundrick, costume design by Christiaan Lafata, and sound design by Mark Palmer.

Avon Players’ production of Miracle on 34th Street is inspired fun and just what we need to get this holiday season off to a great start. Revitalize your holiday spirit at one of the remaining shows, but don’t wait too long. Opening weekend sold out fast.

This performance runs for approximately two hours with a 15-minute intermission.

Tickets for all shows are $25. Call 248-608-9077 for tickets or order online at Discounts on matinee tickets are available for seniors and students; call the box office for details. Additionally, group rates are available by calling the box office. “Like” Avon Players Theatre on Facebook for special offers on tickets. All major credit cards are accepted. All seats are reserved. 

See and believe for yourself at these remaining performances:

  • Friday, December 1, 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 2, 3:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 2, 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, December 3, 2:00 p.m.
  • Friday, December 8, 8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 9, 3:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, December 9, 8:00 p.m.
About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at

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