A Perfect Way to Get in the Christmas Spirit
TR Robertson …“We all need someone to believe in us”, is such a simple but true statement and it is said, in “Miracle on 34th Street”, by a person thousands of people, young and old, around the world believe in, at least at some point in their life – Kris Kringle, a.k.a. Santa Claus. A step back in time, to the late 1940’s, is the perfect way to get you and your family into the Christmas spirit if you take in the San Diego Musical Theatre’s World Premiere holiday presentation of the Live Musical Radio Play “Miracle on 34th Street”.
This musical is based on the 1947 Lux Radio Hour Broadcast taken from the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street”. The musical is from an adaptation by Lance Arthur Smith with original score and arrangements by Jon Lorenz with original direction and choreography by Colleen Kollar Smith. The musical is directed Brian Rickel who is also the head of performance in the Grossmont College Theatre Arts Department. Costume designs were by Janet Pitcher, Set designs by Michael McKeon, Lighting designs by Christina Martin, Sound designs by Kevin Anthenill and Wig and Hair designs by Peter Herman.
Photos by Ken Jacques
The 1947 film is based on a story by Valentine Davies and takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day in New York City. The basic premise of the story revolves around the hiring of a department store Santa at Marcy’s Dept. Store who claims to be the actual “real” Santa”. A series of events will lead to a court case involving the sanity of the employee right before Christmas Eve. The film, starring Maureen O’Hara and John Payne, won Academy Awards for Best Actor, Best Writing, Best Screenplay, Best Original Story, and a nomination for Best Picture. The film has been made into three additional films, several T.V. adaptations and a Broadway musical premiering in 1963 at the Shubert Theatre called “Here’s Love” with music by Meredith Willson.
The Horton Grand Theatre production uses the Lux Radio Theater December 22, 1947 airing of “Miracle on 34th Street” as the backdrop for the production. The program would be presented two additional times, in 1948 and 1954. The broadcasts featured Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and Edmund Green. The radio station program would be run by CBS from 1935 until 1954 and by NBC from 1954 until 1955. In the 50’s the program would be shown on television.
The musical features seven performers who play a variety of roles throughout the performance. Playing a perfect Kris Kringle is Tim West, an award winning director and last season’s house manager for SDMT. Playing Cordelia Ragsdale, the Macy’s department store events manager, is Janaya Mahealani Jones. Ms Jones is in this role for the 2nd year and is a veteran of regional theatre productions. She brings a beautiful singing voice to the role which mixes well with the other cast members. Playing her daughter is first time SDMT performer Cassidy Smith. Cassidy shows great stage presence and has several songs which stand out in the show, “Snowflake Song” and “I Believe in You”.
Playing Grady Williams, the lawyer who will save the day for Kris Kringle and the smitten love interest of Cordelia, is SDMT veteran Matthew Malecki. Malecki has performed all over San Diego County and currently works for Disneyland performing in “Frozen”. He had a vibrant tenor voice featured throughout the musical and was hilarious as the Macy’s Santa’s elf Albert.
Numerous other roles for the musical fell to Lise Hafso, radio persona Oliva Glatt, and Steve Freitas, radio persona Wallace Ainsley. Hafso, as Glatt, would be called upon, for the story, to be Doctor Pierce who worked at the facility where Kringle lived, young Bobby, son of the D.A. prosecuting Kringle and the secretary/phone operator for Mr. Macy, as well as numerous other crowd roles. Hafso brought an energetic, comic liveliness to the musical. The award for most parts played though goes to Steve Freitas, who during the course of the musical, as Ainsley, would portray – Julian Shellhammer a Macy’s department head, Mr. Macy himself, Mr. Gimbel the competing department store owner, Thomas Mara the District Attorney saddled with prosecuting Kris Kringle, Granville Sawyer, the villain in the story, who tries to get Kringle committed to an institution and also like Hafso, numerous crowd roles. Freitas uses a wide range of voice changes and dialects, as well as simple prop changes to fit the roles. He also has a wonderful baritone voice that harmonizes well with Hafso, Jones and Malecki. Hafso and Freitas are returning to the roles they played last year in “Miracle on 34th Street” and are both veteran actors with numerous performances to their credit.
Holding everything together is the KSDMT radio announcer and story narrator, Alex Mialdo, played by Cris O’Bryon. Not only does O’Bryon play the piano as the only musical instrument for the musical, he provides and works all of the props for sound effects, this is supposed to be a radio show after all. O’Bryon will also step into character as Judge Henry X. Harper, the judge presiding over the trial that attempts to prove Kringle is delusional and not Santa Claus. O’Bryon has worked with almost every theatre in San Diego County and Southern California. He will be debuting his 54Below/Feinstein, with Errolyn Healy in NYC this February.
This musical will most certainly put you in the holiday mood with wonderful renditions of traditional songs, a very moving portrayal of Kris Kringle, great humor and a memorable way to start the holidays. The cast even presents the 40’s traditional radio ads as part of the show, using the real sponsors of SDMT as the ad sponsors. The classic use of cups to create the sound of phone operators and the mumbling of cast members to create crowd scenes for the radio audience brings back a bit of nostalgia for those of us old enough to remember live radio theatre broadcasts. A bit of history is presented through the ongoing competition between Macy’s and Gimbels department stores that took place long ago for the Number #1 department store in NYC.
There are lessons to be learned in this simple musical. A simple lesson in believing when Kringle tells his lawyer, Grady, “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not too” and the complex problem the judge faces when he is reminded, “What will happen if you rule there is no Santa Claus?”. Certainly issues to think about this time of year.
“Miracle on 34th Street” will run until December 24th at the Historic Horton Grand Theatre, located at 444 Fourth Street in San Diego’s Gaslamp area. Tickets can be purchased online at www.sdmt.org or call 858-560-5740. Ticket prices range from $25-$60. Discounts are available for seniors, children, students and groups.
Next up for SDMT will be “The Full Monty”, January 26-February 25th. In December 2016, SDMT entered into a partnership with Intrepid Theatre Company to share the use of the Horton Grand Theatre, which will be the home theatre for all of SDMT’s productions.