OREM — Miracle on 34th Street is a classic Christmas film, but I was not wholly aware of the musical stage adaption by reputable song writer and lyricist Meredith Willson, who is best known for his works The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. I recently had the opportunity to this adaptation for the first time at the SCERA. It was a delightful experience, and has placed Miracle on 34th Street on my list of favorite holiday productions.
A brief refresher: This is the story of Susan and her single mother, Doris. Doris works for Macy’s department store and is in charge of hiring Santa Claus. She has raised her daughter to not believe in Santa, or any other fairy tales. When the Santa Doris had originally hired shows up for the parade completely soused, Doris hires Mr. Kris Kringle from off of the street. Mr. Kringle ends up challenging the conventions of modern retail, and even causes Susan to question the reality of Santa.
The curtain opened on a crowded street scene of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The cast, especially the children, did well at keeping the energy and excitement from the start. It was a solid opening number that rolled into an overall, solid production. Lydia Oakeson was an ideal choice for the role of Susan Walker. She was good at being strong minded, but not overly pessimistic. Even in the large ensemble numbers, Walker stood out with her big movements and high energy. She did well at portraying a confident young lady on stage. Although Susan seems to be more mature than most children of her age, she still remained a child. My favorite example of this was in the scene where Fred Gaily (played by TJ Thomas) takes Susan to see Santa. While claiming her disbelief in Santa, she was delaying the meeting by playing on a rocking horse. She then shakes Santa’s hand in a business like manner. It was the perfect blend of trying to be grownup and yet not quite shaking the childlike behavior. I loved the dynamics between Susan and Fred. There was a fun, joyful, and innocent relationship between the two that was captured perfectly by Oakeson and Thomas.
My favorite number was “She Hadda Go Back.” Not only was the song rather funny to start with, but it was well executed by Fred (Thomas), Alvin(played by Kent Stephens), Climber (Jansen McQuivey), and Whitey (played by Tyler Clark). The four men’s voices were well blended, and the characters had the feel of old army buddies that was needed. Thomas also did an excellent job of chemistry with Natalie Merrill, who played Doris Walker.
Doris Walker is a strong business woman, and a loving mother; two accounts which make her a force to reckoned with. Merrill did well at portraying both the strong independent side of her character along with the character’s softer more vulnerable side. Merrill’s voice was strong in most of her numbers, especially in “Pine Cones and Holly Berries.” However, the performance seemed to tax Merrill’s voice. By the end of the show and her final solo, “Love Take Me Again,” notes were growing occasionally flat. The entire ending scene was lacking after the emotionally charged courthouse scene just moments before. The production could have ended with the courthouse, and I would have been happy.
As a parent much like Doris Walker in this play, I’ve been trying to decide how much I want to indulge my children in the Santa Claus tradition. After watching this production, if ever there was a Santa Claus I’d want my children to believe in it would be Kris Kringle, as portrayed by Arden Hopkin. He was the ultimate Santa Claus. Doris Walker was right to this Santa, and director Robinne Booth was right to cast Hopkin in the role. I was especially moved by his performance during “Bugles” and “Here’s Love.” I also enjoyed his perfectly time “wink of the eye” in “That Man Over There is Santa Claus.” It felt so natural that it appeared that his eyes were truly twinkling.
Speaking of the musical number “That Man Over There is Santa Claus” I need to give a shout out to Garrett Smit who played R. H. Macy. This musical number was definitely the crowning moment of Smit’s performance. The energy and humor, along with a great voice, made this number a highlight in the production. Macy was a business man before the scene began, but he became the ultimate salesman with his performance. He was a man who wasn’t afraid to put himself out there to achieve his goal.
This production was backed by excellent sets, costumes, and choreography. Shawn Mortensen has designed some great sets for SCERA, but this might be one of my favorites. I especially loved the toy department set with its gingerbread house and holiday decorations. I love when set designers don’t have to cut corners to create a set that is just functional, but they can still create a set that is artwork. Big sets and classic shows make me feel nostalgic, which is exactly how I should have and did feel while watching this production. Deborah Bowman‘s costume designs also added to this feeling with time period appropriate pieces. I loved Susan’s light green dress with a red pattern. This production also allowed for some variety in costumes, especially in the Toy Ballet. I do wish, however, that Doris’s mic pack hadn’t been placed on her back as it distracted from her great dress suit and made a strong female character look like she had a hunched back. The choreography by Brodee Ripple was well executed and didn’t feel overly simplified. It meshed well with the time period of the production, was classy and never cheesy.
This production was the perfect show to start my holiday season and to conclude my 2017 reviewing. I would love to attend this show again before it closes. It is an ideal show for families, especially families with children who may be questioning if Santa Claus is real. I’d recommend making room for Miracle on 34th Street at the SCERA in your busy holiday schedule.