Book, Music and Lyrics: Meredith Willson
Director: Nicola Samer
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Few people can be unaware of the 20th Century Fox film, Miracle on 34th Street, released in 1947, then remade in 1994. This stage version first saw the light of day in 1963 under the title Here’s Love, running on Broadway for more than nine months. It sticks pretty closely to the storyline of the original film.
The heartwarming story follows Doris Walker, a successful executive at Macy’s whose reprobate husband left her on the birth of their daughter, Susan. Doris reacts by ensuring her daughter only believes in those things she can see, smell, taste or touch and discouraging her from believing in fairy stories or Prince Charming. Doris organises the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, at which she serendipitously meets Kris Kringle, a jovial man who seems to be the perfect Santa Claus. He is a hit, and is hired to be Macy’s Santa. However, he is dogged by trouble: he sends customers to other stores when they have better deals and the store psychologist takes a dislike to him and recommends he be dismissed and committed. Kris doesn’t help himself by insisting he is the real, the one and only, Santa Claus just as he is winning over Susan and his mother. Enter the cavalry in the shape of single lawyer and neighbour Fred, who takes on the state of New York to try to free Kris.
So does this version stand up to scrutiny? Sadly, the answer is ‘not really’. The songs are not memorable, with the exception of “That Man Over There” and some of the casting stretches the suspension of disbelief almost to breaking point. The children are all played by (admittedly young) adults; old Mr Macy is played by Paul Greeenwood, clearly far too young and looking rather like a doll in his wig and make up. Indeed, few characters look right – the exceptions being Doris (Genevieve Nicol), Fred (Daniel Fletcher) and Kris (James Murphy). The cast have fine singing voices without exception, although occasionally lost in the recorded music. The set is ingenious and allows the action to move smoothly between the exterior of Macy’s and the various interiors – Doris’ and Fred’s apartments, the toy department of the store, the courtroom. And the small cast play their parts well, if sometimes lacking in depth – it is the book that mainly falls short: for example, Doris’ and Susan’s conversion from sceptics to believers, a central part of the plot, happens suddenly and without any obvious reason.
The audience were eager to get in the Christmas spirit, and this production with its familiar themes, feelgood storyline and satisfying denouement certainly succeeded in helping them do that. However, for those of us with a soft spot for the 1947 film, it falls rather short.
Runs until 16 November, then on tour until 22 December
Picture: Darren Bell