Miracle on 34th Street is an enchanting story and beautifully and simply told by this versatile cast. The musical element is very strong and satisfies the appetite for good Christmas songs.

Miracle On 34th StreetFaith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.

The heart warming Christmas story, Miracle on 34th Street was first brought to film in 1947 and had a much heralded cinematic remake in 1994. This timeless story has also been staged on Broadway and the West End. The version currently running at the Bridge House Theatre is subtitled, A Live Musical Radio Play and has been adapted from the 1947 Lux Radio Broadcast.

This version was adapted for the stage by Lance Arthur Smith with original songs and arrangements of Christmas classics by Jon Lorenz. It is running concurrently at the San Diego Musical Theatre where it was developed and has Lorenz there as the Musical Director.

The best things about this production are the story itself and the music. The traditional Christmas songs are given beautiful jazz vocal arrangements and the original songs by Jon Lorenz are snappy and enjoyable. The singing is accompanied by piano which is played with style and panache by local Musical Director Jamie Ross.

Miracle On 34th StreetRoss also begins the presentation as the Announcer and proceeds with great aplomb and very plummy BBC tones. He also sings harmonies when required and is a dab hand at sound effects in the style of radio plays. The latter job may just be one too many as he has insufficient time for the enthusiasm required for this vital radio element.

There are some exquisite vocal harmonies from the ensemble. The men in particular never miss the required pitch and are delightful to hear. There are also some versatile and comedic characterisations from all the cast.

As well as the aforementioned Ross, there are six cast members who, between them, cover twelve major characters as well as a myriad of smaller roles. There is a clever use of props and costumes from the design of Fiona Marin. They flag a character change but this clever troupe can define the change with the lift of an eyebrow. They show great skill in their craft.

MiracleRichard Albrecht takes the important role of Kris Kringle. He is the epitome of the character who is sometimes vulnerable and at other times wholly in command. There is a palpable relationship between his Kringle and Emily Carewe as Susan Walker, the eight year old who has been taught not to believe in anything she can’t see. Carewe is very endearing as the young girl and sings a beautiful song to Santa Claus. Her solid vocal skills are also very noticeable in the ensemble singing.

Playing the role of the mother is Lowenna Melrose whose forte is acting. Every one of her multiple roles is clearly defined and in the part of Doris Walker there is time for her to develop the character in relation to her daughter, as well as Kris Kringle and the love interest, Fred Gailey. With her in that relationship is Ellis Dackombe who sings like a dream and can act the lover as easily as he does the more comic characters.

Amy Reitsma plays, amongst other things, the judge. Reitsma is also a resourceful performer and her jazz solo suits her singing style well. Really rounding out the cast is Lewis Rae who bounds from one character to another with lightning quick changes. In the courtroom scene it’s easy to lose count of the roles he plays but Rae is always in control. His singing is as strong as his acting skills. He is divine.

MiracleWhere this production is lacking is in staging and set design. Obviously radio plays are designed to be heard and not seen but it’s more that in the confined space of the Bridge House Theatre, this static presentation is taken to new levels of tiresome. Much of the dialogue is delivered from behind a microphone but the narrative is most alive on the occasions that the actors are allowed to physically interact.

Further the cramped space not only makes the sightlines for the front row tedious but also it has a very odd effect on lighting. In many of the musical numbers there is an up-lighting effect akin to holding a torch under the chin.

Basically, if you’re going to perform a radio play for a live audience – even one as well known as Miracle On 34th Street – there needs to be more visual interest than is to be seen in this production. Signs and sound effects only go so far.

MiracleMiracle on 34th Street is an enchanting story and beautifully and simply told by this versatile cast. The musical element is very strong and satisfies the appetite for good Christmas songs.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Miracle On 34th Street
SOURCEPhotography by Nick Rutter
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Viola Patrick

Viola has been obsessed with all things theatre since she was young and first encountered the Les Miserables soundtrack. Totally hooked, Viola later studied Theatre at Reading University, where she was able to perform on stage, as well as writing and directing her own material. She has written theatre reviews for newspapers and magazines and is looking forward to joining the exciting world of LivetheatreUK.com and online reviewing.