Like Santa Claus, ‘Miracle’ won’t let you down
STONEHAM — The major problem with doing a stage adaptation of an iconic 1947 movie — or in this case an iconic 1947 movie that was remade in 1973 and 1994, not to mention two TV versions in 1955 and 1959 and a Broadway play in 1963 called “Here’s Love” starring Janis Paige — is that your actors have to push the preconceived notions of theater-goers out of their heads and accept your cast as the real deal.
And so, like it or not, your Kris Kringle — in this case, William Gardiner — will probably be compared with Edmund Guenn, who originated the role in 1947. The good news is that Gardiner’s performance is the best part of “Miracle on 34th Street,” the stage play adapted by the Mountain Community Theatre from the 20th Century Fox movie, with the Valentine Davies novel the source for both.
Gardiner is a fine actor, and if you’re a Stoneham regular you already know that. It’s his second go-round in the role at the theater, and he has already garnered critical acclaim for his work in such productions as “Lumberjacks in Love,” “Guys on Ice,” and “The Nutcracker.”
He projects warmth and sincerity as Kris Kringle, who by circumstances is forced to take over the role of Santa in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
He becomes Macy’s official store Santa, and store officials are momentarily shocked when he starts sending customers to other stores if he believes their products better serve the customers’ needs.
But it turns out that customers see Santa and Macy’s gesture in the spirit of the holiday, and sales soar.
The major problem is that Kringle isn’t just playing Santa — he believes he is Santa, and that also creates concern for store officials, who fear Kringle is suffering from a delusion that could manifest itself in other harmful ways.
If you don’t believe Kris Kringle, then the show is sunk, and the good news is that Gardiner provides an anchor that the rest of the cast can rally round, with his immoveable faith in what he is and what his mission is in life. His sincerity and warmth shine through like a beacon.
He has an easy chemistry with Harry McEnerney IV, with whom he performed in the much-praised “Lumberjacks in Love,“ who is Albert, the Macy’s janitor who is also a Santa Claus of sorts and who provides a place for Kris to live in the city rather than commuting to his Long Island rest home.
The part of Doris Walker, the stressed-out Macy’s exec and divorced single mother, is one that an accomplished actress such as Marianna Bassham can handle with one hand tied behind her back. To her credit, she gives it her all as someone who doesn’t have much faith in Kringle as Santa, or faith in the human race in general.
Sydney Newcomb is her 11-year-old daughter Susan, for whom believing in Santa is a bridge too far. In a recent performance, she seemed to be tight and her lines spoken in a monotone early on; she seemed to relax later in the production and young actors typically improve quickly after the first show or two.
There’s some tweaking in order for Jesse Hinson as Fred Gailey, the lawyer out to win the heart of both Doris and her daughter. Yes, he is an upbeat, hale-fellow-well-met type, but he needs to tone down the giddiness and scale it back a bit so when it’s really time to be giddy, we can tell the difference.
There are other effective supporting efforts from Kevin Fennessy as the spineless judge who may be forced commit Kringle to Bellevue; Donna Sorbello as Miss Sawyer the uptight Macy’s HR exec and amateur psychologist who tries to have Kringle committed; Gerard Slattery as a Macy’s manager and Sarah Newhouse as the assistant DA who is forced to “prosecute” Santa Claus. Michael Underhill does well in well in two roles, and Scott Giangrande as Mr. Macy and Arthur Waldstein as Mr. Gimbel are also fine.
Director Ilyse Robbins has made the transition from a successful choreographer to a successful choreographer and director, and she has a firm hand on the rudder here.
Gail Astrid Buckley’s 1947-era costumes are spot-on, right now to the dark seams in the stockings and Gailey’s fedora.
Erik Diaz’s scenic design cheerfully evokes the color and flash of a major department store at Christmas.
Eventually, Santa and Kringle will both be put on trial, but it all, of course, gets wrapped up neatly in a bow. Clocking in at about 110 minutes with an intermission, “Miracle” won’t tax the youngest or the oldest members of your group.
Just like Santa Claus providing under the tree on Christmas morn, Gardiner as Kringle and Stoneham’s “Miracle” won’t let you down.
The Stoneham Theatre production of “Miracle on 34th Street.” through Dec. 29 at the Stoneham Theatre. From the novel by Valentine Davies, and the 20th Century Fox motion picture as adapted by the Mountain Community Theatre. Directed by Ilyse Robbins. Scenic design by Eric Diaz. Costume design by Gail Astrid Buckley. Sound design by David Wilson. Lighting design by Jeff Adelberg. http://www.stonehamtheatre.org