It's hard to believe that what happens in Miracle on 34th Street bears any resemblance to everyday life. But as the Nomad Theatre's entertaining revival demonstrates, the story has the ability to awaken ideals long ago beaten into a coma by megadoses of hard reality.
Of course, those who attend the Boulder troupe's adequately staged production will likely pine now and then for the pre-colorized 1947 film version (starring Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood) of Valentine Davies's novel. But, on the strength of Christopher Tabb's capable direction and some fine performances, Colorado playwright Dave Brandl's stage adaptation delivers all of the story's sentiment and most of its festive atmosphere. Despite a couple of two-dimensional performances and some slight glitches, the company succeeds in making rough theatrical magic out of a well-worn yarn.
Actor Tim Englert leads the company with a splendid portrait of Kris Kringle, the elderly gentleman (and periodic psychiatric patient) who has trouble convincing others that he's more than just a department-store Santa. The talented actor has a firm grasp of the character throughout, especially during the first scene, when he leaves his assisted-living facility and decides to face life on his own terms. He isn't always as expansive a soul as he could be, but Englert ably communicates the old man's frustration with being hemmed in by adults who want their children to believe in an entity -- and by extension a spirit of giving -- that they no longer acknowledge as real.
Julia Johnson is equally compelling as Doris, the Macy's store executive who hires Kris after running into him on the streets of New York. David C. Riley is appealing as her sometime boyfriend, Fred, the lawyer whose belief in Kris ultimately helps him to rediscover his own lost confidence. Ashley Dean, a student at Little Elementary in Arvada, is properly precocious as Susan, the young girl (and Doris's daughter) who puts Santa to the test by saying she'll only believe in him if he gives her the present she wants most; given that her wish is for a happy home (and Dean's wealth of charm), it's not hard to see why Kris puts up a court fight to avoid being committed to an insane asylum. Heston Gray manages to find nuggets of humor in the walk-on role of a father who tries to teach his son the value of good behavior but is thwarted, he feels, by a too-generous Kris, and as a street-wise advisor to Judge Harper, who is ably played by Nita Froelich. A fine supporting cast, featuring Foothills Elementary student James Wilson and Peanut Butter Players standout Caitlin McCarthy, play a host of minor roles with colorful distinction.
In the end, the Nomad's production does what every great "faith" story is supposed to do: It reaffirms our assurance about things hoped for but not always seen.
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