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Miracle on 34th Street, The Musical: Believing makes it so

[The following feature was written for the current Arvada Center program guide, artscentric.]

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!"

Little did New York Sun editor, Francis Pharcellus Church, know in 1897, when he responded to a letter from 8-year old Virginia O'Hanlon, that his thoughtful reply would be immortalized in the hearts and minds of all those who celebrate the spirit of Christmas. It's even less likely that Church would have guessed his affirmation of Santa Claus would later be proven correct by Kris Kringle himself, who caused quite a stir in New York City in the late 1940's.

Erick Devine as Kris Kringle
Erick Devine as Kris Kringle
Photo: P. Switzer©2012
As A Miracle on 34th Street recounts, Kris shows up in Gotham and discovers that the holiday to which he is eternally associated has become tarnished by commercialism and greed, so he aims to set things right—and events conspire with him. The story unfolds over the five-week holiday season that, as we've grown accustomed, starts with Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The 1947 film, starring Maureen O'Hara as Doris Walker and nine-year old Natalie Wood as her daughter, Susan, includes actual footage of Macy's parade, with Edmund Gwenn (Kris Kringle in the film) as the parade's Santa Claus. The film was such a success that Macy's invited Wood to appear in the parade the following year.

Sixteen years after the film, the musical (with score, lyrics, and book by Meredith Willson of The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown fame), hit the boards, with a few minor plot changes plus some great numbers, including "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas."

Jody Madaras as Fred Daily and Regan Fenske as Susan Walker
Jody Madaras as Fred Daily
and Regan Fenske as Susan Walker
Photo: P. Switzer ©2012
As director Gavin Mayer explains, he's adapted a few elements from the famous film into the stage production: "The musical was originally called Here's Love, with Willson de-emphasizing the Christmas elements, because the producers wanted this to run year-round. Willson also made it stage-friendly, cutting a few cinematic scenes, including Doris, Susan, and Fred's trip to Long Island, ending the piece with Fred and Doris on a living room set in Macy's. But we've added back some of the original storyline, so that our production ends more like the movie."

Kris, of course, is still central to the outcome. The name Kris Kringle, a derivative of the German Christkindl (Christ child), once was a common alternative moniker for Santa Claus (a derivative of the German Sinterklaas, for St. Nicholas)—so, what could be more natural than Kris standing in for himself in Macy's parade? Still, as we see in the musical, there are folks who object to the idea that Kris Kringle is anything more than a fairy tale, and declare that any fellow who calls himself by this name is nothing more than a deluded old man from a home for the aged. In fact, as the story explains, the New York City prosecutor's office put Kris on trial.

<(Left to right) Lauren Shealy as Doris Walker and Regan Fenske as Susan Walker
Lauren Shealy as Doris Walker
and Regan Fenske as Susan Walker
Photo: P. Switzer ©2012
All of this goes on while Kris serves as the catalyst for a number of budding relationships, beginning with that of the successful, but love-wary divorcee, Doris, who manages Macy's parade as well as the Santa Claus visits and photo ops at the department store. Doris teaches Susan that Santa Claus is a myth, so the drama escalates quickly when Fred Gailey (a handsome attorney who is courting her) and Kris (who is now the Macy's Santa Claus), tell Susan that Santa Claus is real. How in the world is Kris going to make Doris', Susan's, and Fred's wishes all come true? Will he win his freedom in court?

Willson's musical adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street gets to the heart of the matter just like the original, finding answers in the holiday season's most important message: faith in people is central to making good things happen. This requires forgiveness.

Regan Fenske as Susan Walker and Erick Devine as Kris Kringle
Regan Fenske as Susan Walker
and Erick Devine as Kris Kringle
Photo: P. Switzer ©2012
As Doris, Susan, and Fred learn from Kris, just because something doesn't work out the first time doesn't mean that it won't eventually happen, as long as you keep working on it and put aside thoughts of giving up. As it turns out, each of the four principals gives their dream a second try and, as we shall see, that's how miracles happen!

Now about all those letters (like Virginia's) addressed to Santa Claus—we're so happy to see that the United States Postal Service figured out where to deliver them!

The Arvada Center's production of Miracle on 34th Street runs through December 23rd. For more information: 720-898-7200 or www.arvadacenter.org.

Bob Bows

 

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