“Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind …” —Kris Kringle, Miracle on 34th Street
While I agree with this sentiment, let’s be clear: Christmas is coming, and it’s all over Los Angeles. Stores are filled with red-and-green blinking everything, and holiday television ads started airing on Halloween. Instead of getting annoyed with the earlier and earlier launch of holiday madness, I decided to embrace it. My choice was made easy with the opening of Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play at the Actors Co-op in Hollywood. The beloved classic 1947 movie with Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara and a young Natalie Wood is a favorite, so why not a live radio play? Why not, indeed?
Let’s start with the stellar story. If you don’t know it or haven’t seen the movie, stop everything and remedy that situation, now. You don’t live under a rock. Miracle on 34th Street is a story of faith, hope and love. Doris, the head of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, hires a man by the name of Kris Kringle as a last-minute replacement for a drunken Santa. Kris is quite a sensation and secures a position as Santa at Macy’s department store. He surprises customers, employees and even Mr. Macy himself with declarations of being the one and only Santa Claus. But all are able to overlook the claims for the goodwill he shares and for his truly special spirit. However, a run-in with the company psychologist lands him in a mental hospital, where, because he is so hurt, he deliberately fails his mental examination. This all leads to a widely publicized court case to prove his sanity… and that he is indeed, the real Santa Claus.
In this production, that delightful story is wrapped in a live 1940s radio show. At the top of the show, we are introduced to the seven actors who will be playing the various 34th Street roles using different voices and simple costume additions. They perform the commercial break jingles, carry out all foley, and help get us in the mood with some holiday tunes (music director: Anthony Lucca). There’s an applause sign—it’s a live radio show, after all—and the stage manager (Joanna Reyes) is in the onstage sound booth. The set is cozy (designer: Tanya Orellana) and lands us right in the 1940s, as do the attractive and fun costumes (designer: Jessica Champagne-Hansen) for the ladies and gents alike. The actors are engaging and fun. The biggest casting surprise is Sal Sabella as Kris Kringle, a bearded young man with a rich and resonant voice. Close your eyes and he’s Santa, open them and he’s a live radio performer.
The piece was originally commissioned in 2016 by the San Diego Musical Theatre. As a super Miracle on 34th Street movie geek, I enjoyed the little tidbits here and there that were just slightly different than the movie. Nothing that would cause annoyance for the purists; it’s just gleefully enjoyable to catch the minor differences. Director Joseph Leo Bwarie packs a lot of fun, laughs and cheer into the production. Go have a very merry Christmas all year long … but catch this show before it closes Dec 15th.
Ensemble: Kristen Cook, Phil Crowley, Callie Chae Pyken, Sal Sabella, Matt Solomon, Jack Tavcar, Lauren Thompson
Miracle on 34th Street
Actors Co-op David Schall Theatre
1760 N. Gower Street, Hollywood, CA 90028
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. Dark 11/29, 11/30 and 12/01
Adults: $39, Seniors (60 & over) $35, Students w/ID: $30.00
Through December 15
Tickets and information: www.actorsco-op.org or (323) 462-8460 ext. 300
Discount tickets are around, take a look!