Many people know about the 1947 classic holiday movie "A Miracle on 34th Street" starring a very young Natalie Wood and Maureen O'Hara. But how many know there's a musical version too?
Troupe America of Minneapolis opens its national tour of the tuneful production at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto over Thanksgiving weekend. Originally titled "Here's Love," the musical opened on Broadway in 1963 with a score by Meredith Wilson, known for "The Music Man" and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."
Songs include "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" and "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You."
The musical closely follows the original story, which centers on a skeptical 6-year-old girl, her divorced mother and a department store Santa Claus who insists he is the real thing.
"The heart of the story is about faith, hope, caring, kindness," said Fred Mackaman, who plays Kris Kringle. "It's a wonderful show."
The touring production features a cast of 17, including three children, plus a small orchestra. Eleven-year-old Bella Blackshaw, who has appeared in "Annie" and performed with Minneapolis' famed Children's Theatre Company, plays the Natalie Wood role.
Curt Wollan, the show's producer and owner of Troupe America, said Bella and the other kids are cute, the sets are beautiful and the story is appealing to audience members of all ages.
"It's a warm fuzzy," Wollan said. "It's a Christmas tradition. It falls in line with all those great traditions, including 'Christmas Carol' and 'It's a Wonderful Life.' "
Wollan said Mackaman is perfectly cast as Santa because he's a "big jovial warm teddy bear kind of a guy."
Mackman said he has played Santa many times before in other shows and other capacities and enjoys creating special memories for children. He believed in Santa whole-heartedly as a child, accepting the legend without question, from the North Pole address to the sleigh and reindeer.
He loves the original movie of "Miracle on 34th Street" because it feels surprisingly modern.
"The main character is a divorced woman raising a daughter on her own," he said. "It takes place in New York City. It centers on Macy's and opens with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade."
The musical retains the movie's wholesome spirit. "It's clean," he said. "There's nothing in it that's going to offend anybody."
Director John Tsafoyannis said the show will leave audience members uplifted. It sends a message that "if you believe in something, you can achieve it."
WHAT: "Miracle on 34th Street The Musical"
WHEN: 7 p.m. Nov. 23, 2 and 7 p.m. Nov. 24 and 2 p.m. Nov. 25
WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
CALL: (209) 338-2100