Here's a Christmas Miracle you haven't seen here 1,000 times
Meredith Willson wrote Here's Love, since renamed Miracle on 34th Street, The Musical, in 1963, following the huge success of his shows The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. It's based on the 1947 movie that made a star of little Natalie Wood and is as endlessly rewatchable (though not nearly as rich and resonant) as the old Alistair Sims version of A Christmas Carol. In terms of music, though, Miracle doesn't come close to Willson's previous hits; there's nothing that gets your feet tapping like "You Got Trouble" or that sounds as sweet as "Goodnight, My Someone." Still, the songs are workable and pleasant, and Willson incorporates his 1951 hit "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" to excellent effect.
Much of the script is taken directly from the movie, and it feels odd in this day and age to hear romantic hero Fred address Doris, the woman he's coming to love, as a "dumb little dame," or to listen to Doris later chiding herself for hard-heartedness with the words "Look, Little Girl."
Nonetheless, there are many good reasons to see this show.
Miracle on 34th Street
Presented by the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities through December 23, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org.
The story has charm and punch. Yes, you know cynical little Susan, who's been taught by her embittered divorced mother not to entertain magical or romantic reveries, will be won over by Fred, the gallant marine who lives next door, and later by Kris Kringle, the portly, white-bearded gentleman who insists he's the real Santa Claus — but it's still fun to watch it happen, and then see Doris follow the same emotional trajectory and end up in Fred's arms. And some of the script's hoariest concepts do carry a charge: Who doesn't want to believe that generosity and goodwill can overcome all obstacles, especially at Christmas? So it's enjoyable to hear Kringle, who's been hired by Doris as the Santa Claus at Macy's, help customers find exactly what they want even if what they want is available only at another store. And we're touched when he speaks to a lonely and confused little Dutch adoptee in her native language. It all puts you in the same gently happy, misty-eyed place as a cute kitty video on Facebook, or a photo of a friend's adorable toddler.
The second major reason to see this production is Erick Devine's performance as Kris Kringle. Devine exudes kindliness and humanity, and his rich baritone warms you to the soul. When he says he really is Santa Claus, you don't doubt it for a moment. There's also the fine soprano and general charm of Lauren Shealy, who plays Doris — though it would have been nice to hear these voices applied to material more worthy of them.
Child actors are the bane of the acting world, because they tend to be so annoyingly aware of their own adorableness — and you feel like Scrooge himself if you don't agree. But director Gavin Mayer has found several wonderfully appealing youngsters for his production. Regan Fenske is grave, serious and entirely professional as skeptical Susan. Six-year-old Ashlyn Faith Williams (a chess player, according to the program) is touching as Hendrika, the adopted Dutch child. As for Nate Kissingford's little Tommy, who innocently destroys his DA father's entire case against Kringle in the courtroom — well, you just want to squeeze the puddin' out of him, as the old folks used to say.
Then there's the overall professionalism and enthusiasm of a cast that also includes Jody Madaras as Fred Daily, Mark Rubald as R.H. Macy and Ben Dicke as Marvin Shellhammer, along with a richly detailed set by Brian Mallgrave and delightful period costumes by Chris Campbell.
Among other reasons to go are two things this production isn't: It's not one of those Christmas shows we've seen a thousand times around here, and it's not — hallelujah! — hideously overmiked, like so many local musicals.
As a bonus, every time someone mentions Macy's, you get to have a quiet little giggle, remembering David Sedaris's satirical take on a Macy's Christmas in The Santaland Diaries (which is getting a new staging by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company this month). So while it's not a knockout show as penned, it's nicely packaged entertainment for the season.
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