Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Miracle on 34th Street
The musical follows the basic plot of the film. Doris Walker, single mother and director of events at Macy's (including the Thanksgiving Day Parade), is cynical and has imparted her lack of trust and beliefs to her daughter Susan. This includes the fact that Santa Claus is just a man whom Doris hires for $2 an hour, not someone to believe in. Next door neighbor Fred Gailey takes a shine to Susan and when Doris ends up hiring a man who calls himself Kris Kringle to portray Santa, both Fred and Kris make Susan start to change her mind and believe in Santa Claus. Can Fred and Kris melt the ice around Doris' heart and get her to start believe?
The show originally premiered on Broadway in 1963 under the title Here's Love, though the more familiar name of the film is how the show is now marketed. Willson's book is perfectly charming as well as a fairly faithful adaptation of the film script. It's just a shame that his music and lyrics are unmemorable (especially considering Willson wrote The Music Man). The one song you'll come away humming is the already familiar "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," which Willson wrote as a stand-alone song twelve years before the show premiered and incorporated into the score.
The Palms cast is adequate with Jocelyn Kleinman a winner as Susan. She has excellent line delivery and facial expressions, and perfectly gets across the role of this young cynical girl. Janine Smith is also effective as Doris, with the right amount of mistrust portrayed in her body language and vocal inflections. She has a lovely singing voice, too. Kleinman and Smith also make a realistic mother/daughter duo. Danny Karapetian is fine as Fred, it's just a shame the part is so woodenly written, though he does have a nice bit of business in the second act courtroom scenes. As Kris, Jim Coates is appropriately charming and jolly.
Director Victor Legarreta manages to move the plot along swiftly and get effective performances from his cast, though he should have pulled his actors in a bit as some of them overact and a couple of them chew the scenery a bit too much just to get an unnecessary laugh. Tia Hawkes' costumes are lovely and colorful, and the scenic design (on loan from another production, I believe, since no credit is given in the production) is quite elaborate and works well on the small Palms stage.
While Miracle on 34th Street may not be the greatest way to spend the holidays, the plot, characters and themes are still heart-warming. The Palms facility is decorated nicely for the holidays, the buffet style food is fairly good, and while you may not come out singing any songs from the show you will most likely still have an enjoyable time.
The Palms Theatre productions of Miracle on 34th Street run through December 25th, 2014, at 5247 East Brown Road in Mesa. Tickets and information for their upcoming productions can be found at thepalmstheatre.com or by calling 480 924-6260.
Written by Meredith Willson
Cast: (in alphabetical order)