There's a good reason you've probably never heard of the musical version of "Miracle on 34th Street." As seen in Troupe America's touring production, running at Modesto's Gallo Center for the Arts, it's not that good of a show.
Although it was written by respected composer Meredith Wilson ("The Music Man," "The Unsinkable Molly Brown"), the 1963 show, originally titled "Here's Love," has few memorable songs beyond "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas."
While the 1947 classic movie that inspired it (starring Maureen O'Hara and a young Natalie Wood) is heartwarming and sweet, the musical is often dull and plodding.
At Friday night's opening performance, audience members all around me squirmed in their seats and yawned.
It didn't help that Minnesota-based Troupe America's production seems cheap. The storybook sets are mediocre, and the three-person band sounds lackluster and tinny. With ticket prices topping out at $79, the audience deserves better.
The saving grace is that the cast (directed by John Tsafoyannis) is wonderful and professional. From top to bottom, everyone can sing and has a confident stage presence.
Like the film, which was written by Valentine Davies and George Seaton, the musical centers on a Macy's department store Santa Claus who insists he's the real thing and a skeptical young girl who has never believed in Kris Kringle. The show begins with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and ends Christmas Eve.
Fred Mackaman, who stars as Kris Kringle, is an ideal Santa, from his looks to his demeanor. He is kindly and wise, with a sincere desire to bring joy to others. He has great rapport with Bella Blackshaw, the charming 12-year-old who plays the Natalie Wood role of Susan Walker. It's fun to watch Kringle show Susan the joys of imagination.
Karen Weber is sophisticated and polished as Susan's divorced mother, Doris, an executive at Macy's. Jeff March is sweet and funny as neighbor Fred Gailey, who befriends Susan and flirts with Doris.
Mark Bailey Capalbo is shrewd as store owner Mr. Macy, and Tom Bengston is appropriately jumpy and attentive as his sales staff supervisor, Mr. Shellhammer.
While the Gallo Center is selling $10 children's tickets to the show for kids as young as 4, the show is more appropriate for kids ages 10 and up. With a 2½-hour running time, including intermission and discussions on faith vs. common sense, the production is too long to keep the attention of the littlest ones.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2313.
'Miracle on 34th Street'
RATING: * *
WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
WHEN: 2 p.m. today
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours 30 minutes, including an intermission
TICKETS: $19-$79 adults, $10 children ages 4-18
INFORMATION: (209) 338-2100 or www.galloarts.org
* * * * Excellent; * * * Good; * * Fair; * Poor