Common sense makes it hard to imagine that a small town community theater company could pull off a credible adaptation of an academy award nominated Christmas classic. Believe me; if you’re lucky enough to get to Park Hall in Ben Lomond the next two weekends you’ll not only be rewarded with a first rate production you’re likely to trade common sense for a heightened sense of fantasy and leave with a renewed respect for miracles.
Almost everyone is familiar with the 66 year old story of the Macy’s Santa who must prove in court that he should not be confined in a mental institution because he calls himself Kris Kringle and challenges all around him to believe in the miracle of the holiday spirit. The movie version starred Maureen O’Hara and Edmund Gwenn, who won an academy award for his performance.
The play is directed by Wendy Edmonds who artfully moves the story through nearly a dozen scenes. She covers the more elaborate set changes by employing a group of carolers led by Ian Blackwood who perform the familiar songs of the season. (If you arrive early and are so inclined, you can join the group in the back of the hall as they warm-up the audience with pre-show melodies.)
There are a few updates to the script, like the liberal use of smart phones and references to the Internet, Facebook and Twitter all worked well. There are a couple of surprises including an imaginative light show performed by the young elves led by Rita Wadsworth, and a host of character parts which won over the audience. The court clerk (Gypsy Berks Darwin who also entertained as the bag lady) and her husband Ed Darwin who played the drunk Santa and a postal worker stand out.
In the principal role, Peter Gelblum is perfectly cast as Kris Kringle. From the moment he first appears, we believe. Whether in street clothes or the full Santa Claus costume he makes the miracle of the story more than plausible. Whether it’s his acting skill or natural temperament - or a combination of both, he not only convinces the audience he seems to convince his fellow players. To a person they give their best performance when they interact with him.
Ella Currie tackles the part of the young Susan with aplomb. The role which was originally played by an 8 year old Natalie Wood, requires a broad range and a delicate balance that would tax a veteran actor. Currie delivers on all accounts. Daria Troxell as her no-nonsense mom and Michael LaMere as the lawyer Fred Gayley also turn in strong performances.
Kathie Kratochvil brings her considerable skill to the part of the New York judge who presides over Kris’s fate. The Ben Lomond brothers Goldrup, Jim as Sawyer and Tom as the District Attorney give spirited performances as do the the rest of the supporting cast members.
If you want to experience of an intimate local holiday event that will make you proud to be part of the community and get you fully into the holiday spirit the Miracle on 34th Street will do the trick, believe me.
The Mountain Community Theater, for 30 years one of the premiere community theater companies in the Santa Cruz area; is presenting the Miracle on 34th Street at Park hall on Mill St. in Ben Lomond through Dec 22nd. For tickets and information visit http://www.mctshows.org/
Note: The Mountain Community Theater first adapted Miracle on 34th Street with permission from the heirs to the story author Valintine Davies in the early 80’s. They published the script and received royalties for a number of years before the lawyers at 20th Century Fox, who produced the famous film in 1947 stepped in and claimed the rights citing evidence that they had purchased the rights directly from Ms Davies. Not only was MCT denied the ability to collect royalties they couldn’t even stage the play. Enter attorney Peter Gelblum who through his brother, also an attorney who happen to have connections to the Fox studio facilitated a settlement that allows the local group to produce the play once again. This last production of the 30th year of the Mountain Community Theater could easily be called the Miracle on Mill Street.