Writer and Music: Meredith Willson
Director: Max Reynolds
Reviewer: Jo Payne
Opening with the sound and look of a circus, and ending with that of a pantomime, it is the only the recognisable festive songs and some superb cast members that rescue this somewhat lacking production. With the help of some tinsel, fairy lights and snow machines, Christmas spirit is, thankfully, weaved throughout the show.
Based on the incredibly well-known motion picture of the same name, this musical production tells the story of Susan Walker (Hannah Thompson) and her mother, Doris (Claire Hawkins), as they try to discover, with the help of many friends, whether Kris Kringle (Danny Lane) is indeed Santa Claus, as he most assertively claims to be. Set in the backdrop of New York City, specifically the world-famous Macy’s store, Kringle brings joy, love and faith together for this festive tale.
Undoubtedly, Danny Lane provides the backbone of this show. He gives an entirely believable performance as someone old enough to be Santa Claus and is unrecognisable from his headshot; revealing his age might spoil the effect. Lane is warm and gentle while sounding and singing as one would expect from the rôle originator, Richard Attenborough, were he alive and performing the part on stage. He carries the show and is truly remarkable in it.
Alongside Lane are some other great actors: Claire Hawkins portrays Doris Walker with equal amounts of strength and vulnerability; Brendan Matthew provides laugh-after-laugh as Shellhammer, and Hannah Thompson allows the audience to suspend their disbelief as a charmingly childlike Susan. The cast’s vocal abilities are best highlighted in the traditional numbers like Silent Night and there are some mysterious slight-of-hand tricks that help create the sense of magic. There is little chemistry between the two romantic protagonists, perhaps because Fred (Carl Lindquist) is given some strange comedic sequences, so their story becomes awkward in the latter scenes.
Unfortunately, the robust plot and fine principal cast are let down by a pitiful soundtrack. The songs sound unfinished and do nothing for the range and ability of some of the vocalists performing them. That, alongside some unusual choices for animal puppets and an excessive amount of smoke, makes for uncomfortable viewing throughout. The set is practical and switches easily between Macy’s and a New York City courtroom; however, it is accompanied by some unnecessary, over-the-top acting from a few supporting cast members. Background action sometimes takes the audience’s attention away from the main characters, distracting from the important plot events.
Although a professional tour with some talented cast members, the elements combined make this feel like a hastily-created production, lacking with musical finesse and care.
Runs until 17 December 2015 |Image: Darren Bell