If you’ve been struggling to get a festive mood this holiday season – and frankly, we understand – Saint John Theatre Company has the prefect antidote. Yesterday they premiered their Main-Stage series Miracle on 34th Street at Imperial Theatre.
The story centers around the mysterious character of Kris Kringle, a Macy’s department store Santa Claus in New York City. Kringle looks remarkably like the real deal and is on a quest to prove that seeing and believing are not mutually exclusive. With a little help from his friends, Kringle manages to pull off a miracle. On 34th Street.
Directed by Bob Doherty, SJTC’s production of Miracle on 34th Street is a modern approach to the classic tale. Set in present day – with plenty of jabs at President-elect Donald Trump – the production incorporates technology into its telling of the nearly 70 year old tale.
One way it’s attempting to rejuvenate the tale is with the use of a projection screen to depict different scenes. Using it, Doris is able to bring up Kringle’s personnel file and even take a quick peek through Twitter. The screen is also used to project news updates, read hilariously by Christine Morgan-Ahearn.
The jolly man himself is played marvelously by Gilbert Boyce, who embodies all the warmth and kindness of the main character. Even I was tempted to curl up in his lap and tell him my Christmas wishes.
Pippa Wennberg plays Doris Walker, the Macy’s employee who unwittingly hires Kringle. Cliff Turner plays the young lawyer Andrew Roberts, who risks everything to save Kringle.
The production has a large cast, and within it there are a number of wonderful performances. Shelly Smith is a standout as Walker’s big-haired and ditsy assistant, Wanda Dimarco. Aryelle Morrison is funny as Macy’s employee and proverbial bonus-hunter, Joyce Shellhammer. But it’s really the child actors who steal the show.
Grace Maloney excels as little Susan Walker, who learns to play and to believe in things that can’t be seen. Felix and Finnian Turner play Pauly and Joey Amoretti and will steal your heart in a New York minute with their tough-guy attitudes (fahgettaboutit!). Grace Brown claims another heart stealing moment as little Robyn Mara, with her courtroom scene.
The production does, however, suffer a bit from its own ambitiousness. The crew seemed to struggle with several set transitions. The final scene change was particularly awkward, as the cast struggled to be heard above the din from upstage.
There’s plenty of cheesy moments in this production. But perhaps cheese is just what’s needed, as we close what many consider one of the worst years in recent memory. Miracle’s themes of faith and belief might be just what we need to restore our faith in humanity.
Miracle on 34th Street runs from Nov 23-27th at Imperial Theatre.