by Terrance Mc Arthur
Reedley’s River City Theatre Company has the perfect Christmas present for you. You don’t have to wrap it, and you can order it with dinner. Get yourself to Reedley to see a stage version of Miracle on 34th Street, based on the novelization of the 1947 screenplay.
You know the movie, right? The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is in jeopardy unless they can find a replacement for a drunken Santa, and here comes a kindly old gentleman with his own beard. He’s the answer to a merchandising prayer, but there’s an interesting rub—he goes by the name Kris Kringle, and he thinks he’s Santa Claus. He winds up in a sanity hearing, and…you do know the rest, don’t you?
Trying to turn a movie script into a stage play can be a tricky proposition. A film can jump from location to location in 1/24 of a second, but a play requires dimming the lights, moving the furniture and people, and turning the lights back up. This takes time, but the River City crowd does some quick-like-a-bunny-rabbit scene changes, made bearable by recordings of familiar Christmas tunes that will make you want to sing along (You might wait until the people at the next table start singing, so you won’t stand out).
Kris Kringle needs to be lovable, kindly, sympathetic, and respectable. Larry Ham fills the bill. He makes up in height what he lacks in girth, sort of Abraham Lincoln in a red suit (By the way, the Santa outfit is regal!), but he comes across as a witty, wise old man who really ought to be Santa, and he’s filled with Christmas Spirit, an All-American Santa who knows where to go for the best deals.
Heather Price is Doris Walker, the no-nonsense woman running the parade and the Santa set-up. Doris, scarred by a bad divorce, tries to raise her daughter without romantic notions and flights of fancy. Price shows us a repressed woman suppressing her emotions, slowly opening up to a world of joy and a willingness to believe in Santa…and in love.
Joseph Hill plays Fred Gailey, Doris’ lawyer-next-door, who is called on to defend Mr. Kringle from insanity accusations, while he’d really like to get her to return his affections for her. Hill is jovial and gentle, winning as a litigator trying to win a case that logic says is hopeless. Price and Hill don’t try to be Maureen O’Hara and John Payne, stars of the original movie, and that’s a good thing. They look like real people, and they act like real people, but loud enough that you can hear them.
Tessa Figueroa is winning in the Natalie Wood role of Doris’ daughter, Susan. She’s perky and sweet, and her dawning belief in Santa is something to believe in. Ben Applegate, angular and active, is cheerfully frantic as Shellhammer, Doris’ assistant, trying to deal with a Santa who might be unstable (He also gets to be one of the most famous postal employees in film history). Scott Chapman probably enjoys being booed by the audience while he oozes through the play as Mr. Sawyer, the personnel person who thinks of himself as a psychologist, ruining the well-being of all those around him.
Tanamin Clark is businesslike as R. H. Macy. Stephanie Barnett is an earnest prosecutor. Eli Bonomi gets a lot of laugh-mileage out of the words “All Rise!” as a New York/New Jersey bailiff, by way of Joe Pesci. Special note should be taken of the trio of Macy’s Santa’s elves, Elizabeth Applegate, Alonso Soto-Guzman, and Sophia Milton.
Joseph Ham may be terribly young, but he handles the directing chores with aplomb, building a tight production that runs smoothly and brings back all the warm memories of the holiday classic, but in Living Color. Go see it!
Reedley’s River City Theatre Company is located at 1720 10th Street. For further information and to purchase tickets you can go to their website, or call 559-638-6500 or 866-977-6500.
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