Thanksgiving is past, which means that Christmas is on its way. Of course, we’ve known that since before Halloween when the stores started rolling out all the decorations and ads about Black Friday.
But, now it’s official! Tacoma Little Theatre has opened its remarkable family holiday program. This year it’s director/writer George Seaton’s “Miracle on 34th Street,” adapted for the stage by Mountain Community Theater.
The writing team stayed true to the beloved filmed story of a very senior citizen named Kris Kringle, who claims to be the real Santa Claus and causes enough “miracles” to put a doubt in the mind of most stubborn unbelievers.
For those few who have never seen the classic 1947 movie, which is on TV almost all the month of December, here is a synopsis:
Kris Kringle is an old man living in a retirement home. Kris and the home’s director are near Macy’s Department Store when they encounter the Thanksgiving Day Parade’s Santa who is drunk as a small black animal with a white streak down its back.
Because he has a magnificent white beard and fits the suit, the parade’s organizer, Doris Walker, asks Kris to take the inebriated one’s place in Santa’s sleigh. He does such a fine job in the parade that Walker hires Kris to be the store Santa for the season; however, he needs a local place to stay.
Fred Gayley, an attorney who lives in the apartment across the hall from Walker, is enamored with her and her daughter, Susan – both of whom are imagination non-believers. Fred agrees to have Kris stay with him in order to get closer to his love interest.
Macy’s company Vocational Counselor, Leslie Sawyer, angry that Kris has gotten the better of her, convinces Mr. Macy that Kris belongs in Bellevue and shanghais the not-so-jolly Saint Nick to commit him.
Kris loses faith in everything until Fred comes to his defense and gets his lady loves to agree to Kris’ alter ego and takes his case to court to prove that he is indeed Santa Claus. The outcome proves a magical surprise.
Maria Valenzuela is the director of this year’s TLT Christmas show, “Miracle on 34th Street;” she does an excellent job with the blocking and the actors. Valenzuela keeps each character in constant motion through the whole evening – there is never a dull moment. She has even scripted live piano soloists to play during the set changes, which are done by the actors, to cover the “down” time in the production.
Valenzuela has given her audience a tight, well-run show filled with good talent and an extremely helpful crew.
Blake R. York does an excellent design for the many locations required to tell the story – from street scenes to inside Macy’s Department Store; Bellevue to courtrooms; apartments to offices – all are accomplished with incredibly easy-to-move, full stage height set pieces a third the width of the stage. In fact, sometimes a lone young woman moves the mammoth pieces by herself – this shows the engineering needed to produce them.
Michele Graves dresses the actors with perfect 1940’s style. Jeffery Weaver dresses the set with each changing location precisely done.
Niclas Olson does a good lighting design with live ‘40’s style street lights and apartment sconces included.
Marion Read and Cyra Benedict hold forth on the piano during set changes; both played beautifully.
Betzy Miller is Stage Manager. Miller is responsible for keeping the pace of the show up to such a high caliber of excellence. Usually seen in front of the curtain, Miller does a superlative job as the backstage crew chief.
Valenzuela’s cast of more than 20 is comprised of experienced actors of all ages; some extra players also appear in the ensemble.
Kenton Jackson is Dr. Pierce, the head of the retirement quarters which houses our red-suited one. Jackson is of gentle demeanor, fitting to the role of someone dealing with geriatric residents.
Eva Hay plays 10-year-old Sharon, a visitor to Macy’s St. Nick. Hay also roams the streets with her Father in tow.
Paul Parker has two roles, Finley and Sharon’s Parent. As the father, Parker exudes the long-suffering dilemma which strikes so many lost parental souls during the Christmas season.
Luke Miller is Johnny, another visitor to see Santa. Miller is eager to spill his wants to the bearded one.
Evie Merrill plays the grade-school-aged Dutch Girl who is sent to America to escape the Nazi regime in 1940’s Europe. Merrill does a good job with her Dutch language lines and accent.
Margie Stenberg also has two parts; Sydney Stewart, the sometimes leader of the street choir and as Merrill’s Foster Parent, Stenberg has that understanding “Please let it be over soon” look on her face.
Cyra Benedict (one of the pianists) is Mrs. Mara. She is pleasant as a devoted mother who takes her daughter to see Santa.
Violet Brielle Spataro is her daughter Janet Mara. Spataro is 7ish-year-old charmer who already has a long resume of professional credits. She climbs upon Santa’s knee with gusto and a very long list of wants.
There are three girls who delightfully play Santa’s assistants, Macy’s Elves. Makayla Broxton is Elf Z; she seems to be the leader of the small band. Broxton is quite animated with big eyes and an elfin aura about her. Mary Norton is Elf Q. Norton is the quietest of the three, gently plying her elf-like qualities. Jayda Slack, Elf J, is the tallest and most limber of the three. All three girls dart and dance about the stage coming to Kris’ aid at the drop of a candy cane and add sequestered hilarity to the production.
Eric Cuestas-Thompson has two roles. First, he nearly steals the show within the first 10 minutes from curtain-up. Cuestas-Thompson is the heavily, oh, so heavily drunk Santa who throws himself on and about the stage with the flexibility of Dorothy’s Scarecrow. What a Hoot! As Halloran, the politico advisor for the judge, he is snide; nice work on both roles.
Mary Sheehan has two roles. She is a Bag Lady who makes it known in no uncertain terms that she owns the street in front of Macy’s. Sheehan’s other part is of Judge Harriet Harper who oversees Kris’ competency trial. As Harper, the good actor shows the audience angst in keeping her job while not rejecting Kris’ claim.
William Michael Paul is good as Al, a postal worker. Paul is better as Mr. Bloomingdale, Macy’s friendly opposition. The actor builds his one-upmanship with fervor.
Kerry Bringman is Mr. Macy. Bringman gets better each time he is on stage. This time the actor has donned a Bostonian accent to go with his multi-big-money character and never drops it during the show. The actor gives the audience a bombastic, kindly department story owner they can love.
Curtis Beech does three parts. As Johnny’s Grandpa he is as lost as the other guardians escorting their wards to deal with Santa. As Lou, the post office worker, he instigates the idea which brings about a happy ending. However, as Duncan, the Zoo Keeper, Beech shines. He has developed a timid, gentle character who is lovable and only wants to help; very nice work.
Mimosa Clyons alternates playing Susan Walker with Abbie Wachter; when not Susan, each girl does the part of Meagan, another visitor to Macy’s Santa. Wachter is good as a Santa Seeker.
Mimosa Clyons played Susan preview night. Clyons is a talented young woman who handles the pivotal part with determination and aplomb.
Diane Martin is Leslie Sawyer, Macy’s Vocational Counselor. This born comedienne is so over-the-top she is in constant flight. What a funny lady and what an amazing characterization Martin has developed – the character the audience hates and loves.
Marion Read (also pianist) is Mrs. Shellhammer, Macy’s parade manager and our heroine’s boss. Read gives the audience the epitome of the uncertain-of-her-job minor executive who will go to any lengths of stay on top. The actor is funny and scared – the more scared she gets, the funnier she gets.
Cannon Jones is Fred Gayley, the other half of the “Miracle” love duo. Gayley, an attorney in the real word, is in his element with this role. He exudes the suave quality of a self-assured shyster who will bend the law to prove his case as he strives to bend the heart of the object of his affections.
Nena Curley is Doris Walker. Curley is more often glimpsed backstage than onstage. It is a pleasure to see the actor make the transition to in front of the audience so easily. Walker plays a loving mother, once hurt by her “Prince Charming,” she has sworn to never surrender to a fairy tale world and trained her young daughter the same. Walker shows the audience her change of heart as her love grows for her neighbor and her belief in Kris overwhelms her.
Michael Dresdner is Kris Kringle. Michael Dresdner is Kris Kringle. This is not a repetition, this is just a fact. Dresdner is built for the part (including beard); he is lovable, jovial, jolly – now, that’s repetition – shows how distraught he is when his character thinks he’s been betrayed but springs back with the will to fight City Hall and win – many kudos and a Ho! Ho! Ho!
“Miracle on 34th Street” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through December 23 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturday with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays and a special matinee December 24 (no evening performance). There is also a 7:30 p.m. Pay-What-You-Can performance Thursday, December 23,
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
“Miracle on 34th Street,” as a classic film, has won the hearts of all who have seen it through the years. Live, on stage, it is even more real than a pleasant fairy tale. Because it’s live, you’ll love it as much or more that the celluloid reproduction seen from so many feet away.
Don’t miss the Miracle on I Street. Make your reservations before Santa tugs at his reigns and shouts, “Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer!” and flies away “like the down of a thistle.”