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 now running at Modesto’s Gallo Center for the Arts, it’s not that good of a show.
Though it was written by respected composer Meredith Wilson (“The Music Man,” “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”), the 1963 show 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.
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Like the film, which was written by Valentine Davies and George Seaton, the musical centers a Macy’s store Santa Claus who insists that he’s the real thing and a skeptical young girl who has never believed in Kris Kringle. The show begins with Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ends on 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 the 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 age 10 and up. With a 2-and-a-half-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.
Miracle on 34th Street’
WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
WHEN: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Nov. 24 and 2 p.m. Nov. 25
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including an intermission
TICKETS: $19-$79 adults, $10 kids age 4-18
INFORMATION: (209) 338-2100 or www.galloarts.org