‘Miracle on 34th Street” at Tacoma Little Theatre is a feel-good holiday show that asks audiences to suspend critical judgment along with disbelief. It is a touching reaffirmation of faith (which is defined as “believing when common sense tells you not to”) and a still-relevant send-up of the commercialization of Christmas – much more relevant today, in fact, than when the story is set, a time when rampant commercialism was just beginning to creep into the holiday.
Based on the popular 1947 movie of the same name, with sets and costumes reflecting that era, “Miracle on 34th Street” tells the story of what happens when Kris Kringle, the real Santa Claus, plays Santa at Macy’s and is forced to prove in court that he really is Santa.
Kris Kringle is played by Elliot Weiner, a much-loved local actor who shone brilliantly in such recent hits as “California Suite” at TLT and “My Name is Asher Lev” and “Tuesdays With Morrie” at Lakewood Playhouse, and who turned in an outstanding job of directing the hilarious “Sylvia” at TLT. Playing Santa might not be the high point of Weiner’s theatrical career, but he plays the part delightfully with controlled mirth. For a role that requires audiences to believe the unbelievable, Weiner makes jolly old St. Nick quite believable.
Gabriel McClelland plays Fred Gayley, the romantic lead and the lawyer who defends Kris Kringle in court. He underplays the part nicely and endears himself to the audience as well as to Doris Walker (Elena Easley) and her daughter Susan (Adysen Barkhurst, a fifth-grader at Saltar’s Point Elementary in Steilacoom). Easley, a newcomer to TLT, does a fine job of showing how Doris gradually changes from a career-driven cynic to a loving and open-minded person, and Barkhurst is convincing as a young girl who undergoes a similar transformation. It helps that Barkhurst bears a striking resemblance to the young Natalie Wood, who played the part in the movie. Cynical and too old for her years at first, she allows herself to become a child again under Santa’s influence. The budding love between Doris and Fred and their mutual care for Susan is nicely done.
The show is understandably and forgivably sappy, and under the direction of Casi Wilkerson they have pulled out all the stops in trying to create the feel of a 1940s Christmas in the city, with strolling carolers, bustling shoppers and a crew of Santa-helper elves that are just silly, resulting in a play that has the feeling of a middle school Christmas pageant. All of the comings and goings and marching back and forth down the aisles is little more than a distraction from the main story, and although the principle actors are very good, many of the actors in supporting roles are amateurish.
There are, however, redeeming moments on the part of some of these supporting actors. Among them: Debbie Jacobs’ lovely rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and Heather Kennedy’s brief appearance as a radio announcer reporting on the story of Kris Kringle in court. And then there is a campy Joseph Grant playing the guy you love to hate in the person of Sawyer, a Macy’s employee counselor, and Kaelyn Claire as Mara, the prosecuting attorney. Her outlandish hairdo and facial expressions are precious.
Blake R. York’s set beautifully captures the look and feel of the time and place in a kind of vintage Christmas card style. The smoothly revolving sets comprise a city street and Macy’s Santa Land, both looking like Hallmark cards; Doris Walker’s modest living room, which is graced with nicely detailed period furniture; and a very stark courtroom. ‘Miracle on 34th Street’
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 23.
Where: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N I St., Tacoma
Tickets: $15-$25. Pay what you can at tonight’s performance.
Information: 253-272-2281, email@example.com Check Alec’s blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com/ for a review of “Cinderella,” an English pantomime at Centerstage Theatre.