Music, Book and Lyrics: Meredith Willson
Choreographer: Richard Jones
Musical Director: Ben Holder
Director: Paul Taylor Mills
Reviewer: Pete Benson
The Miracle on 34th Street musical is based on the 1947 film of the same name which has become an iconic Christmas perennial. The key to the success of the movie is the performance of Edmund Gwenn as the man who claims to be the genuine Father Christmas, a performance again equalled by Richard Attenborough in the 1994 colour remake. The ‘is he or isn’t he?’ conundrum is at the heart of the magic of the story, so James Murphy, playing this production’s Kris Kringle, has big boots to fill.
The basic story is simple, cynical divorcee Doris Walker (Inez Mackenzie) has brought up her daughter Susan (Ceris Hine) to believe only in tangible things that can be proven. In her job at the New York Macys’ department store Doris hires Kris Kringle to be the store’s Santa. Kris reveals that he believes he is the real Father Christmas.
At the opening of the show the ensemble recreate the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, this is a big ask on a stage but they tackle it with gusto through a series of differently costumed vignettes. Clearly the ensemble have been cast for their singing and dancing ability.
The plot is sketchily established through a series of sound bites amid song and dance routines. At times Mackenzie is convincing as a sharp business woman hurt by love, but at other times she speaks her lines with no character thought process at all. She sings and dances well and has a nice chemistry with her daughter, played convincingly by Hine. However, her chemistry with her love interest Fed Gailey, performed by Jay Rincon, is almost non-existent.
This is not entirely the fault of the actors. Meredith Willson has written Gailey’s character almost devoid of charm. A duet the potential lovers sing together, Look Little Girl, could not be more inappropriate. That Gailey should refer to an obviously bright business woman as a little girl and that she herself would do the same is absurd even allowing for the era the show is set in. The anger and aggression between the two makes it very difficult for us to care about their future together. This is exacerbated by an entirely irrelevant scene where Gailey bets his army buddies what time Walker will arrive at his apartment, one can only imagine this is just a poor excuse for a song. Yet when Walker opens her heart to Kris there is no song, this would have been an ideal opportunity to build her character. It’s hard to believe Willson wrote The Music Man. The only memorable song in this show, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, Wilson had written ten years prior.
Sadly Murphy’s Kris Kringle doesn’t quite cut it either. He looks the part and sings well but again like too many of the cast he often speaks his lines with no motivation and when you are telling the story in sound bites the acting has to carry meaning and emotion very effectively.
To add to the woes the sound engineer is late with microphone cues on multiple occasions throughout the show. The set is made of fairly basic revolving scenery but is well utilised to good effect but too often it is in shadow with heavy reliance on follow spots to illuminate the performers. The show cracks along at a fast pace, occasionally too fast and culminates in a pleasing snow scene.
The cast work really hard with poor material and too little support. Whereas the source material had real heart and soul that made your spine tingle, this show is almost devoid of those qualities altogether.
Runs until 5th November 2014| Photo: Darren Bell