Friday 8 December 2017

Miracle on 34th Street – Review

Bridge House Theatre, London


Directed by Guy Retallack

The Company

‘Tis the season for glad tidings, joy to all men and women, mince pies and mulled wine. And it is also the time for miracles.

Miracle on 34th Street at Penge’s premier off-West End venue is a delightful romp through a 1947 New York Christmas. Staying true to the film, it captures the heart that has turned this story into a cinematic Christmas classic.

The show tells of a Santa Claus who may or may not be the real deal, as part of a story that acts as one long commercial for Macy’s on 34th Street. Richard Albrecht as Kris Kringle does a fine job of convincing the audience of his authenticity, thawing the hearts of Doris Walker (the superb Lowenna Melrose) and her daughter Susan (Emily Carewe).

While a live musical play version of a film might be a challenging concept to understand, the reality is very straightforward. The audience becomes a live studio audience watching a live performance of the tale for a national radio audience, complete with humorous adverts tailored for the Penge locals, presented by broadcasting giant IBC. With reminders throughout that this is a 1940s era production, such as allusions to the domestic dynamics of that time, the adverts elicit more than a few chuckles.

Yet it feels there is a missed opportunity to up the ante. Instead of the adverts, there could have been real interactions between the actors waiting to deliver their next lines as Doris, Kris Kringle, Susan and more. We could perhaps have witnessed an additional testament to the magic of Christmas in ‘real life’ through the relationships between the cast as they perform.

Nevertheless, the musical element of this production is a very welcome departure from the film. Jon Lorenz’s creative arrangement of carols and popular Christmas ditties is a stroke of genius with the score adding pace aplenty and breaking up the dialogue wonderfully.

It’s a talented cast that’s able to snap between different characters, scenarios and songs. Lewis Rae and Amy Reitsma in particular do a phenomenal job portraying a plethora of individuals, from small children to professionals and more. Rae’s vocals are outstanding making his solo one of the most magical moments of the production.

Special mention also to Ellis Dackombe who plays Fred Gailey, the lawyer defending Kris’ reputation and a pivotal player in the conversion of the Walkers from non-believers to believers. He exudes an extraordinary energy that makes for a captivating performance, with stellar vocals to boot.

Jamie Ross as the very dry Announcer and Director of Music delivers a masterclass in multi-tasking, juggling narrator skills, piano playing, singing and delivering sound effects on cue.

Miracle on 34th Street is a sparkling, joyful and heartwarming spectacle. For a very merry Christmas, this is just the ticket.

Runs until 23rd December
Reviewed by Bhakti Gajjar
Photo credit: Nick Rutter

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