Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Miracle on 34th Street
Palms Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of Tommy J. & Sally, Pippin, Junie B. Jones ..., Irving Berlin's White Christmas and Harvey

Jim Coates and Cast
Adapting a popular film for the stage can result in a theatrical endeavor that adds new layers to the film property or a misfire where the stage version adds nothing, or even detracts from, the movie. It's a shame that the musical stage version of Miracle on 34th Street results in nothing more than the film plot on stage with a score that is adequate at best. The feel-good themes of the movie still come across, and the Palms Theatre production has a charming cast, colorful sets and costumes, and a winning small orchestra, yet Meredith Willson's score features only one memorable tune and that's a song he wrote many years before he wrote the score for this show.

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 or by calling 480 924-6260.

Written by Meredith Willson
Story by Valentine Davies
Based on the Screenplay by George Seaton
Directed and Choreographed by Victor Legarreta
Music Director: Stephen Schermitzler
Creative Director/Music Supervisor: Khris Dodge
Costume Designer: Tia Hawkes
Sound Design: Brian Honsberger

Cast: (in alphabetical order)
Kids Ensemble: Jake Bonar
Kris Kringle: Jim Coates
Sawyer: Joel Duke
Henrika/Kids Ensemble: Karsten Flake
RH Macy: Alex Gonzalez
Mrs. Finfer/Ensemble: Sarah Hayes
Mailman/Ensemble: Christopher Huyer
Fred Gaily: Danny Karapetian
Susan: Jocelyn Kleinman
Kids Ensemble: Mariah Larronde
Shellhammer: Jody Allan Lee
D. A./Ensemble/ASM: Will Leonard
Ensemble: Heidi Lynn
Ensemble: Melissa Mitchell
Kids Ensemble: Anastasia Hope Moyers
Kids Ensemble: Brandon Murphy
Ensemble: Austin Morris
Miss Simms/Ensemble: Karissa Noonan
Miss Crookshank/Ensemble: Kathi Osborne
Kids Ensemble: Elle Phillips
Doris Walker: Janine Smith
Clara/Ensemble: Destiny Walsh
Judge/Gimble: Rob Watson
Ensemble: Jessica Webb

Photo: Mike Benedetto / The Palms Theatre

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix

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