Stoneham Delivers First Rate ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ (4 Stars)
Miracle on 34th Street – Based upon the Twentieth Century Fox motion picture “Miracle on 34th Street” and adapted by Mountain Community Theater; Directed by Ilyse Robbins; Scenic Design by Erik Diaz; Costume Design by Gail Buckley; Produced by Stoneham Theatre at 395 Main St., Stoneham, MA through Sun. 11/29.
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Anyone watching TV or listening to their car radio knows the Christmas season money blitz is upon us, even before we’ve finished up the leftovers from Thanksgiving. But even those horrified by the crass bombardment of commercialism that Black Friday signals (like me) can have a good time at the Stoneham Theatre’s well-crafted production of “Miracle on 34th Street”, which delivers a not-so-corny message about what many see solely as America’s biggest retail holiday. Based on the 1947 film of the same name, “Miracle” tells the story of what appears to be an eccentric older man who is pressed into emergency duty as a Santa Claus at Macy’s when the current Santa shows up for duty at the Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade stinking of booze and utterly hammered. The old man is the perfect guy for the Santa job: He’s kind, friendly, has the Christmas spirit and even has his own costume and neatly trimmed whiskers. The only problem: He honestly believes he’s Santa (as any man by the name of Kris Kringle might).
Which is a problem – not only for the obvious mental health red flags – but because his boss (and single Mom) Doris is raising her 8-year old daughter Susan (the spunky Sydney Newcomb) to believe in reason and logic and doesn’t want her engaging in fantasies like Santa, the Easter Bunny or even playing simple games of pretend with her schoolmates. Susan is also being worked on by the supremely optimistic lawyer Fred Gailey, who also hopes to melt her mom’s non-believer heart. There is also another conundrum. While his boss wants him to push the toys on kids that Macy’s has overstocked, Santa is bound by his Christmas code of “good will towards others” to not only refrain from the deceitful practice, but to refer the kids parents to stores that DO carry the toys they’re looking for. This initially horrifies his bosses, but in a serendipitous twist of having ‘doing the right thing’ actually working out, he becomes a favorite with the top brass. But after Santa begins to work his magic on young Susan, Doris enlists the help of the evil HR lady (aren’t they all evil in these productions?) to help get rid of Kris Kringle before he brainwashes her daughter into actually enjoying the life of a typical 8-year old. And if you haven’t seen the movie, the magic ensues.
At the core of this piece are the themes that are common to many Christmas productions – from the Rankin/Bass “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” to “It’s a Wonderful Life” – namely: that grownups lie – not just to children, but to each other and the world at large – allegedly for the common good of the family, country or company, but mostly to serve their own purposes; That there is a lot more to life than dying with the most toys (or money); and that trying to do right by your fellow man does not make you a sucker. A quote that pops up a few times during the show is “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to,” which extends not only to believing in the spirit of Christmas (and I don’t mean the religious holiday or the buying frenzy that it now represents), but more so to the “just because something seems impossible or difficult doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying” school of thought.
This is a worthy and professional production of this holiday classic, and it starts with the cast. William Gardiner plays Santa Claus with a nice combination of human compassion and a kind of toughness to stand up for his ideals. In a pivotal scene, he confronts Sawyer (a beautifully uptight Donna Sorbello), the evil HR woman, who is trying to convince the simple-minded janitor (Harry McEnerny V) that his kind nature is really a sign of mental illness, and Santa feels the sting of her corporate wrath when he in turn questions her mental health. The real life husband and wife team of Marianna Bassham and Jesse Hinton are convincing as the skeptical store manager Doris Walker and the Santa & Christmas-lovin’ lawyer Fred. The supporting cast is also strong, especially Kevin Fennessy as the weak-willed Judge and Gerald Slattery as the unscrupulous toy department manager, Mr. Shellhammer.
The sets (by Erik Diaz) are mostly confined to Santaland at Macy’s and the courtroom/psychiatric hospital, but are fairly elaborate and nicely detailed, and Santaland brought back the memory of sitting on Santa’s lap as a boy. And the post-World War II costumes (by Gail Buckley) worn by the cast are a standout as well. This is a solid production with a great cast, and if you’re looking for some holiday fare, I highly recommend this show. For more information, go to: http://www.stonehamtheatre.org/season14/miracleon34thstreet.html