Producers for the new show Kris Kringle the Musical expect to make a splash in Northeast Ohio and beyond with its upcoming world premiere, which is expected to draw 10 of Broadway’s top producers to see the show in its quest to move on to the Great White Way.
“We have Broadway royalty coming in, so to speak, from a producing standpoint and an investing standpoint,” said John Thomas of Strongsville, executive producer of the show with wife Danita through their business, Creative Licensing Group.
For security reasons, he couldn’t say which luminaries will be coming when over the Dec. 4-13 run at Olmsted Performing Arts, which is produced by Angel Polar Bear productions of New York. Expected guests include Tony Award-winning producer Barry Weissler and Cathy Rigby of Peter Pan fame.
How did this show make its way to Northeast Ohio? John Thomas met book writer Maria Ciampi in New York five years ago, when his company was a division of Broadway Across America. Ciampi’s Kris Kringle was a film script at the time, and she had workshopped a short version of it at New York’s Javits Center as well as readings at Manhattan Theatre Club in New York and Kennedy Center in Washington.
Thomas was taken by the story: “It is about forgiveness and people coming back together.”
He knew just the composer to introduce Ciampi to help turn the tale into a musical: Tim Janis.
“Tim is all about Christmas,’’ Thomas said of Janis, who has done a number of PBS Christmas specials and performs a Christmas concert annually at Carnegie Hall.
Ciampi, a lawyer who was born on Christmas Day, is the owner of Angel Polar Bear productions. She and Janis joined forces last year and have been developing the musical since, including a staged reading in May in Olmsted Falls.
“We needed to develop it and we needed to get it up and stage it,” Thomas said. “I firmly felt we could pull something off like that in Cleveland.”
The musical’s Northeast Ohio cast of 43 is led by 2013 Baldwin Wallace graduate/Strongsville native Mack Shirilla as well as five other Equity actors. Five cast members are from the Akron area: Kent State University musical theater professor Amy Fritsche of Stow (Ms. Horn) and ensemble members Carly Ameling of Kent; Rachel Balko and Anna Clawson (this reporter’s daughter) of Akron; and Elise Pakiela of Macedonia.
Thomas, who grew up in Westlake doing theater, has a history of entrepreneurship that goes back to age 18, when he produced Side by Side by Sondheim at Playhouse Square, directed and choreographed by Rob Marshall before Marshall became famous as a theatrical and film director (the movie version of Chicago). The Thomases also founded Kid Concoctions videos, which they spun off into a series of books and toys, and were producers of Broadway’s Little Women starring Sutton Foster in 2005.
Their work in licensed Broadway merchandise began with Rigby’s farewell tour of Peter Pan. Creative Licensing Group was born as a division of Broadway Across America eight years ago.
That work became a training ground for the Thomases, who met every major producer on Broadway. Two years ago, Thomases bought CLG back and returned their business to Northeast Ohio.
Heading into Kris Kringle’s opening night, the intergenerational Cleveland cast has been quick on its feet, adapting to nightly rewrites and tweaks to the music. The set will have a turntable, 3-D projections and large, handmade puppets.
The cast, which includes longtime Northeast Ohio Equity actor Greg Violand as Santa, was chosen from among some 300 auditioners as well as hundreds of video submissions. Employing Northeast Ohio actors, stagehands and creatives — including director Pierre Brault — was a priority.
“The talent pool and vocal quality is world class,” Thomas said of the local cast.
He’s confident the show will have legs and will make it to Broadway in the next one to two years.
“I believe it will end up becoming a classic. It’s a great show for family. It really has a great message.”
Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.