Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Musical Arrangments and Original Music: Jon Lorenz

Writer: Lance Arthur Smith, adapted from the 1947 Lux Radio Theater presentation

Directors: Karl Steele and Adam Lacey

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

The 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street is a staple at Christmastime, which is no surprise as it has everything, including three Oscars, for Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Story and Best Screenplay. The tale of Kris Kringle, the kindly old man who insists he is the real Santa Claus and who inspires hardnosed single mother Doris Walker and her daughter Susan to believe in him is cheesy but heartwarming. Subsequently, Lux Radio Theater broadcast an adaptation and it is this adaptation that is the basis for tonight’s presentation, originally commissioned and produced by San Diego Musical Theatre in 2016.

The intimate Old Joint Stock Theatre is transformed into the KSDMT New York radio studio, with a black-and-white set, chromed microphones and station logos firmly fixing the setting as the late 1940s. The cast is dressed in clothes of the period, with the ladies especially elegant with high heels, crimson lipstick and period hairstyles. The whole is glamorous in an understated way and one is lulled into believing one is at a live radio broadcast, including the station idents and advertisements (including distinctly non-PC ads for cigarettes, gin and even military hardware). The story is interspersed with musical numbers, some of which help carry the story, but most of which serve more as punctuation.

As well as performing the script and songs, the cast also produces live sound effects of doors opening and closing, or general hubbub on the streets of New York, for example. There is also tightly choreographed movement to, from and between the microphones with some amusing touches, where, for example, characters supposedly facing one another but actually physically separated pantomime their greetings, shaking hands with the air.

Kerry Frater brings us an amiable and believable Kris Kringle, resplendent with grey hair and whiskers and a very fine cane. He remains reasonable throughout, quietly claiming to be Santa Claus in the face of all opposition, so much so that his burst of anger against Macy’s resident psychologist is maybe not telegraphed as much as it might be.

Doris Walker, in an attempt to protect her daughter and herself from further hurt after her divorce, has retreated into a shell, showing a no-nonsense front to the world. Sam Carlyle as Walker captures this effectively, and her gradual thawing towards both Kringle and her neighbour, attorney and love interest, Fred Gailey, is presented well in her warm voice and agile face. Gailey himself, who ultimately gets New York State to accept both the existence of Santa Claus and that Kris Kringle is he, is played by Bradley Walwyn. He brings a warmth to the role with a good voice too. His affection for both Walker and Susan is evident; a fine performance indeed. Danny Joseph is musical director, playing piano and doubling as the radio continuity announcer. He is also a fine Judge Harper towards the end. Most other roles are covered by Anton Tweedale and Ellamae Cieslik, with funny voices galore to help separate the characters in our minds.

The role of Susan, Walker’s young daughter, is being shared by three young actresses; on this occasion, her tiny shoes were filled by Lucinda Mullen, who provided the right amount of confusion as Kringle appears more and more like the ‘real’ Santa Claus she’s been told doesn’t exist. Her song when Susan writes to Kris to say she does now believe is likely to melt the hardest of hearts.

The whole is slick, albeit with a few fluffs, with excellent singing from all and good harmonies. It works on several levels: while it works as a purely aural experience, watching the cast go through the motions of switching from character to character and provide live sound effects adds a further dimension. Yes, it’s cheesy and sentimental, but when productions are realised as well as this one, that hardly matters. Thoroughly recommended.

Runs until 24 December 2019                                                 Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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