Steve Migdon was a local radio personality known as Steve O'Bryan when he made his Evansville Civic Theatre debut, performing in Neil Simon's "The Good Doctor." Thirty-seven years, a few cities and one major career change later, Migdon returns to Civic Theatre as a physician's assistant to play Santa in a radio show version of "Miracle on 34th Street."
More specifically, he plays Kriss Kringle, the charismatic figure put on trial for claiming to be the bearded benefactor of children around the world in this staged, radio show adaptation of director George Seaton's 1947 movie version of Valentine Davies' modern Christmas fable.
Migdon returned to Evansville this year to rekindle a personal relationship, he said, "but I would be lying to say Civic Theatre wasn't part of the reason I came back."
He returned in September, and had begun working with Deaconess Hospital's hospitalist group when he saw the audition notice for "Miracle on 34th Street - the Radio Play."
"It's one of my favorite movies of all time," Migdon said. "And I love the Kriss Kringle part."
Edmund Gwenn's performance a Kringle won him an Oscar for the part.
At 62, he's aged into the role. Migdon still remembers the film performance, but, "I'm trying to do it as Steve Migdon would do it, not Steve Migdon playing Edmund Gwenn," he said.
Migdon left broadcasting in the 1990s to become a physician's assistant, his profession for the past 17 years. He never worked on the kind of vintage studio depicted in guest director Tom Angermeier's Civic Theatre production, but his two decades in radio and television at stations across the country have helped shape his performance, and those of others who have asked for help in the show, he said.
Some of them are too young to remember, but several cast members knew him as Steve O'Bryan during radio stints at WGBF and WIKY and television work on Channel 25 and Channel 14. He also broadcast as Steve Frame, briefly, on WJPS. The Lancaster, Penn., native worked at all those places over several years in Evansville, performing in a number of Civic Theatre shows along the way.
One of his last performances in Evansville came in the 1979 production of "Oliver," playing alongside Mark Atchison, whom he shares the stage with again in "Miracle on 34th St."
Atchison, a store manager in this modern day fable about clashing notions of commerce, sentiment and faith, played Clarence, the muddling angel in Civic Theatre's earlier forays into radio plays, from the wacky silliness of the "Greater Tuna" comedies to Civic's 2011 production of "It's a Wonderful Life: the Radio Play."
Erik Hurt, who played George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life," returns as the announcer in this show, also set in the studio for WECT, the imaginary 1940s radio station depicted in the 2011 show. Chris Tyner, Civic Theatre's managing artistic director, has adapted a Lux Radio production, expanding it from its original 45 minutes, to fill out almost two hours on stage, he said.
Civic's production, presented with live sound effects created onstage by actors in the 23-member cast, features a series of vintage-styled commercials for contemporary businesses, all written by Tyner.
He and other cast members have turned to Migdon for help, from editing the commercials to getting their characters across through a microphone.
Even though the audience can see them, the cast has to put extra expression into their voices, Migdon said.
"You've got to sell your emotions through your voice; you have to do everything through your voice," he said. "And you can never have dead air."
IF YOU GO
What: Evansville Civic Theatre presents "Miracle on 34th Street: The Radio Play," a live, staged presentation drawn from the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the director George Seaton's 1947 movie version of a story by Valentine Davies.
When: Friday through Dec. 22, playing at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and 2 p.m. Dec. 15 and 22.
Where: Evansville Civic Theatre, 717 N. Fulton Ave.
Tickets: $18 for adults, $16 for those 65 and older and $12 for students 21 and younger, available at www.evansvillecivictheatre.org or by calling 812-425-2800.
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