GLT’s Miracle on 34th Street Affirms the Magic of Christmas

Theatre review originally published November 30, 2016 in the Greenville News.

For those of a certain age, Miracle on 34th Street is one of a handful of beloved holiday films that played in regular rotation each December. Others were such classics as White Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life, and various versions of A Christmas Carol. The dialogue and characters – and the actors who brought them to life – are as familiar as our own childhood living rooms.

Others may not have been so lucky. Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical, now playing at Greenville Little Theatre, tries to capture both audiences. It sticks close to the original screenplay, about a Macy’s Santa who may actually be the real thing, while adding a few songs to help give it a more theatrical appeal.

Chelsea Street stars as Doris Walker, a single mother raising her young daughter, Susan (Ayden Woo), to only believe in facts and reality – no fairy tales or Santa Claus for her. Doris works at Macy’s department store in NYC and hires a man calling himself Kris Kringle (Jerry Witty) as her Thanksgiving Day parade Santa. As Kringle gains popularity, Susan begins to suspect that the jolly old man is in fact the real Santa Claus. Soon, Doris and Susan’s neighbor, a lawyer named Fred Gaily (Sterling Street), gets involved and finds himself also falling for the old man, even as he falls in love with Doris.

Suzanne McCalla directs from a script by Meredith “The Music Man” Willson. The songs, while mostly forgettable, do help distinguish this from the still essential 1947 film. It’s a lovely valentine to the Christmas spirit.

As Doris, Chelsea Street has a no nonsense attitude with just the right amount of warmth underneath. Her real-life husband, Sterling Street, plays an appealingly cheerful Fred Gaily. Ayden Woo (who alternates with Meagan Willimon) is a delight as young Susan, and Jerry Witty is a wonderfully authentic looking Kris Kringle.

While those parts stuck pretty close to the original film, a few characters got a more unique spin. The most memorable were Carter Allen, who brings an infectious energy to the role of Mr. Shellhammer, Doris’ associate at Macy’s, Camila Escobar, who gets a nice duet with Santa as the young Dutch girl, Henrika, and Sam McCalla as the villain of the piece, the twitchy psychologist, Mr. Sawyer. Best of all, though, is Allen McCalla as the irascible Mr. Macy, whose act two production number “That Man Over There” is a real showstopper.

Kimberlee Ferreira provides the engaging choreography and Thomas Brooks designed the bright, period costumes. Director Suzanne McCalla also designed the lovely set. Cory Granner’s lighting works well but his sound design had a few issues, with some unfortunate feedback and a microphone cutting out. But the actors gamely worked right through and those glitches were surely not typical.

All in all, Suzanne McCalla gives us a brisk, family-friendly production that had audience members laughing in delight.

Miracle on 34th Street runs through December 18 at Greenville Little Theatre, 444 College St. Tickets are $35 with discounts available for seniors, children, and groups of ten or more. For reservations and showtimes, call the box office at 864-233-6238 or visit Bring new, unopened toys to a performance to support Toys For Tots.

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