The classic ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ holds up well
STONEHAM – If you’ve never had the chance to do it, it should be on your bucket list.
Start your walk at the venerable Macy’s Herald Square Department Store in the heart of Manhattan. The building is 2,500,000 square feet, which includes 1,250,000 square feet of retail space.
Walk up Fifth Avenue gazing at the decorated storefronts, towards Central Park. Skate at Rockefeller Plaza or, better, Central Park, or take in the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
There remains something magical about Christmas in New York, and that magic shone through in the classic 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street.” remade in films 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.
It found new life as a stage play adapted by the Mountain Community Theatre from the 20th Century Fox movie screenplay, with the Valentine Davies novel the source for both, and the play is enjoying its third go-round at the Greater Boston Stage Company, where it is running through Dec. 22.
Director Ilyse Robbins has cast well, melding established professional scene-stealers with members of GBSC’s highly regarded Young Company.
Sarah Coombs is Doris Walker, a divorced single mother working at the iconic Macy’s Department Store. While she is running the store’s annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, Santa is reported to be “under the weather” by an upset man named Kris Kringle (William Gardiner). Doris asks Kris to fill in for Santa at the parade and he turns out to be a hit.
He becomes an even bigger hit when, working as Santa at the store, he is seen sending Macy’s customers to other stores if Macy’s doesn’t have what they’re looking for. Kris’s advice becomes an example of true holiday spirit, eventually to be copied by Macy’s deadly rival, Gimbel’s.
Doris has explained to 11-year-old daughter Susie (Addison McWayne) that folks such as Kris are nice but there is no real Santa Claus. But Susie is shaken when Kris continues to maintain he is not just a helper, but the real Santa Claus, and does things to give Susie pause.
Kris also unnerves some store officials, some of whom believe he may be delusional, and that delusion could turn violent if challenged.
Doris’s friend, lawyer Fred Gailey (Michael Jennings Mahoney), is out to win the hearts of both Doris and her daughter, and Mahoney, a regular at GBSC, has some strong moments.
Arthur Gomez has a fine comic turn as R.H. Macy, the department store tycoon whom Kris wheedles into buying Dr. Pierce (Stephen Zubricki IV), who presides at the rest home where Kris lives, a new X-ray machine.
Kris’s best friend at Macy’s is a custodian named Alfred (the dependably wonderful Gary Thomas Ng), who is one of Santa’s many helpers who recognizes Kris as the real deal.
Barlow Adamson is Mr. Shellhammer, an easily-flummoxed store manager, and Juliet Bowler is downright dastardly as Mrs. Sawyer, the joyless, imperious store official who goes on a mission to have Kringle removed from the store and committed to Bellevue, where he languishes and which may become his permanent residence if Fred can’t rescue him at a commitment hearing.
Margaret Ann Brady is Judge Harper, terrified at losing her judgeship because she has committed Santa Claus to the looney bin. Kris is being prosecuted by a conflicted Mrs. Mara (Jade Guerra), whose son Tommy (Shea Killeen) will pay a key role in Kris’s defense, along with the venerable U.S. Postal Service.
Gardiner has authored a long string of fine performances in Stoneham, many of them in holiday productions, and it doesn’t hurt that physically, with a naturally brawny build and snow-white beard, he is ideally suited for the part of Kris Kringle.
But appearance is only one part of the puzzle. The good news is he also scores A+ when it comes to sincerity and warmth, two essential ingredients if Kris Kringle is to be more than a cartoon character, a living, breathing human.
A bit corny? Sure. You can hear the corn popping throughout. Dated? Perhaps. But a classic is a classic is a classic for a good reason, and with Gardiner at the center of it all, it is hard to see how you can go wrong.
Add in the requisite number of beyond cute kids, from the GBSC’s fine Youth Company, given a great chance to strut their stuff alongside the many established pros
At its heart “Miracle on 34th Street” is about the enduring value of goodness and kindness and having faith in things both seen and unseen. It doesn’t break any new ground, but covers the old ground remarkably well, and is guaranteed to scare any holiday blues away.
The Greater Boston Stage Company of “Miracle on 34th Street.” Adapted by the Mountain Community Theater from the 20th Century Fox movie and the Valentine Davies novel. Directed by Ilyse Robbins. Scenic design by Jon Savage Lighting design by Andrew Andrews. Sound design by David Wilson. Costume design by Deidre Gerrard. Properties manager Cesara Walters. Production stage manager Deidre Benson. Through Dec. 22. Greaterbostonstage.org.