Sunday, November 15, 2015

Millbrook: "Miracle on 34th Street"

A medley of Christmas songs greets the audience at the Millbrook Commnity Players' production of Miracle on 34th Street, the heartwarming chestnut of a play based on the 1947 film of the same name.

Though performances are a bit early on the calendar [this show closes before Thanksgiving, the day on which the action of the play begins and on which the Macy's Department Store's annual famous parade officially ushers in the Christmas season], director Stephanie McGuire's cast of twenty-two actors valiantly charms audiences with nostalgic reminiscences of times past, and gentle reminders that kindness, decency, and "believing in something when common sense says not to" can defeat the overblown hype and crass commercialism that threaten to ruin the Christmas season.

The opening night performance ran at a slow pace and a long two-plus hours that could be trimmed with more efficient scene changes and consistent energy from the cast. But this familiar tale is given an infectious merriment by its central character Kris Kringle [Sam Wallace], and its tried-and-true lessons that deserve attention.

Just as the big parade is about to start, Macy's "Santa" shows up drunk, and kindly retirement home resident Kris Kringle is conscripted as a substitute by Doris Walker [Karla McGhee], and winds up as the best department store Santa Claus ever. -- Mr. Wallace inhabits the role so completely, that it comes as no surprise that he convinces almost everyone he is the real thing. He's a "jolly old elf" who gradually convinces Doris's daughter Susan [Jaycee Parker is making her mark as an actress here] who has been taught by her mother that Santa is a myth.

There are the nay-sayers, of course, chief among them Dr. Leslie Sawyer [Shea Jackson], who crusades  to have Kris committed to a psychiatric institution by unmasking him as an insane and violent fraud. Ms. Jackson doubles [as most of the cast do] as a Bag Lady; her disguise renders her almost unrecognizable...fine work here.

There's also a love story: lawyer Fred Gayley [Michael Snead] is a neighbor in love with Doris, who, when he accepts Kris's court case endears himself to Doris and simultaneously helps Susan discover her imagination and belief in Santa Claus, thus winning Doris's heart.

We all know how it ends -- Fred wins the court case and Kris is named the one true Santa Claus, Doris and Fred are planning their marriage, Susan gets her Christmas present wish for a father and a new house...and audiences are warmed by the good will of Miracle on 34th Street.