Miracle on 34th Street: A good Christmas show for the young ones!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

Categories: Professional Theatre

Miracle on 34th Street

Poster from the 1947 film featuring Edmund Gwenn. Photo from Art.com. Inc.

During the intermission a tiny tot of 4 years old…one of Santa’s elves no doubt, wearing a red tuque, was wandering through the audience with a big smile on his face. He told me he loved it!  Several other young francophone ladies from Lasalle High School for the arts were standing around munching cookies, also looking very pleased.!! That is the miracle of this play/musical/film/radio drama that Plosive theatre has chosen for the holidays. Bring your young ones. They will have lots of fun and leave feeling good, even if it might seem a bit schmaltzy for the more cynical of the older crowd looking for more interesting theatre. This is a piece of feel good fluff that works its magic, so don’t go expecting anything else. But it is a real treat for the children.

Valentine Davies’ novel has gone through multiple transformations: Four different screen scripts, several books for musical theatre, rewritten as radio plays and as texts for the stage. This version seems to be inspired by the Lux Radio Theatre broadcast adaptation as a radio play in 1948, featuring Edmund Gwenn as Kringle, who also played the role in the first screen version in 1947 where the essentials of this story first appeared on screen. A man who thinks he is Kris Kringle is being committed to a psychiatric hospital (not called that in those days) because no one believes that Kringle/Santa really exists. Lux Radio Theatre adapted some of the best plays of the theater repertoire and they were always performed before live radio audiences and this is where John Cook’s adaptation sends us – back to that era of Radio theatre where we the audience are in the studio watching the actors, musicians and sound effects people putting on a radio play. For me, that is the most interesting aspect of the show.

We are watching a cast of actors and technicians put on a radio show. Thus there is the actual radio show that is aimed at the microphones and the sound equipment. Then, there is the theatre performance with the lights and the radio studio set, showing us how the actors on stage react on and off air. One involves the highlighting of sound: voices, music, sound effects. The other involves a visual performance which is off air as much as on air and it seemed most of the time that many of the speaking voices did not capture the strength of a radio play where all the emotion and the energy has to come through the voice not the body. Often the voices were a bit monotonous  and lacked energy. Some of the actors however were excellent and adapted perfectly to the radio event.

. Steve Martin’s voice has an authentic radio resonance and he was excellent as the Announcer, a new figure in the Radio play version, doing among other things, hilarious parodies of the Lux Soap commercials. He also takes on the suave voice of Mr Gailey, the love interest with Mrs Walker. (Irish O’Brien). Gailey defends Kringle but he is also the scratchy old Scrooge-like Mr Macy head of Macy’s stores, the accusing voice of capitalism who takes on the defense lawyer – – also Steve Martin—in the best best moment of the show as Martin himself carries on a hot court debate between his two radio voices. Martin added a theatrical dimension to his performance by keeping his radio character visually cool but rolling his eyes at the often schmaltzy script while his voice maintained the character for the microphone. This way he caught the stage-radio distinction perfectly and that was the real basis of the humour and the  adult fun portion of  this show.

.Shaun Toohey also worked very well as a radio character. He did five characters of all ages, creating wonderful vocal soundscapes that gave us the illusion he was on air. The same goes for Kate Bunting who slid into eight different voices, managing just as many accents. She has an excellent feel for vocal comedy and she burned up the radio waves with her impersonations. She also created a sexy theatre character that added some spice to the show and Tim Oberholzer also  created some good radio characters. The other actors were perfectly adequate and the singing Gladstone sisters were the 1940’s atmosphere (if you remember the Andrews Sisters) but  a good part of the time, the performances did not  capture the distance between their radio performances (the vocal performance) and their stage performances as actors  staging  a radio show (the use of their bodies and their faces). Often, the two were rolled into one and that showed they missed the point. That was the biggest disappointment.  There was a lot of milling about and chatting behind the microphones when the actors were not on air and that was very good but  at the same time, the radio portion did not take enough advantage of the possibilities of sound effects which were fairly dull and at times barely audible. After all, “sound” is the star of the radio portion but specific kinds of sounds and even attempts to create sounds in less conventional ways was never brought out in this show.

Hats off to director Nicole Milne for bringing in the children who were sweet : Kelty O’Brien as Susan the cynical little girl who at first does not believe in that silly fantasy of Santa Claus, and Ben Blacklock as little Jake, listening to the Radio broadcast during the prologue of the show many years later. Tom Charlebois was a kindly voice as Kris Kringle and the show flowed very well, thanks to director Milne’s stage choreographer, not easy with that huge cast in what is essentially a double performance.

This is however, a very good show for young people so bring your children and have fun at the theatre. They will love it.

Miracle on 34th Street . The Radio Show runs from December 14 to 23 at The Gladstone

Call 613-233-4523 for information and tickets.

Miracle on 34th Street…The Radio Show.

Adapted by John Cook assisted by Teri Loretto-Valentik and Nicole Milne, from a story by Valentine Davies

Directed by Nicole Milne

A Plosive Theatre Production

Set Design: Ivo Valentik

Sound design: RJ Mills

Lighting design:David Magladry

Costumes: Teri Loretto-Valentik and Remy Attia

Music director: Lori Jean Hodge

Cast:

Bob Lackey Poppa

Ben Blacklock Jake

Karen Benoit Live sound effects

Steve Martin Announcer, Mr Gayley, Mr. Macy

Tom Charlebois Kris Kringle

Irish O’Brien Doris Walker

Tim Oberholzer Mr. Shellhammer, Dr. Pierce, Bailiff, Mr. Mara, Lou

Kelty O’Brien Susan Walker

Katie Bunting Cloe, Mother, Miss Parker, Jeannie Lewis, Mrs Henderson, Nurse, Mrs Harper, Elizabeth Mara

Shaun Toohey Little Boy, Mr. Sawyer, Mr Gimbel, Judge Harper Al

The Gladstone Sisters Lori Jean Hodge, Michele Fansett, Rachel Eugster

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