San Luis Obispo Little Theatre’s version of the feel-good Christmas classic “Miracle on 34th Street” is a satisfying, family-friendly show.
Lisa Woske directs the large cast in the story about the kindly gentleman Kris Kringle, who insists that he’s Santa Claus, and the people who help him prove his case to keep him from being sent to a sanitarium for the mentally unstable. Tracy Thornell plays Kris with convincing warmth and charm, and a chorus of children adds holiday color to the story.
The play is adapted from the 1947 movie and has endured as a contest between commercialism and kindness. This version is set in New York City in 1959. When Macy’s hires Kris to be its Santa, he refuses to push the store’s overstocked toys to the children who visit him, and his magnanimous attitude turns out to be a marketing advantage for the store.
But when an overzealous store vocational guidance counselor tries to have Kris committed, a young lawyer and a little girl come to his defense and he is cleverly validated in a courtroom trial. The play’s characters are divided into the representatives of cold commercialism versus those who practice friendliness and kindness.
A subplot involves Doris Walker, a public relations representative for the store, who is bitter from a nasty divorce, and her young daughter Susan, whom she has taught to stifle her imagination and shun the idea of anything that “is not real.” Doris and Susan are softened by friendship with Kris Kringle and the attention of Fred Gayley, the lawyer who defends him.
Jaimie Clarke plays Doris with stiff reserve, and Chad Stevens as the attorney is as sweet and friendly as Doris is cold. Saige Gardner, a fine young actor, is delightful as Susan, the role played by young Natalie Wood in the movie.
John Laird, in a toupee and false mustache, takes his role as the store “psychologist” to the comical edge, garnering the most reaction from the audience. He is the bad guy, and he gives it his all as he warns that Kris is delusional and may become violent. Laird is also musical director.
Janice Peters is good as a Macy’s employee, and Bill Kirkpatrick is strong as the judge, a political candidate who faces the reputation for “sending Santa to the nuthouse on Christmas Eve.” Carol Burkhart is feisty as the courtroom adversary who is anxious to put Kris away. There are 23 cast members in various supporting roles, seven years old and up, giving the production added depth.
The chorus of young performers gives a lively dimension to the show as they act as elves, singing carols and dancing, all with big smiles. They are Jed Authier, Annie Franklin, Jayda Monreal and Zoe Peach-Riley. Kelly Fidopiastis is choreographer.
The set rotates and with quick prop changes goes from Macy’s to the Walker apartment to Bellevue Hospital, to the New York State Courthouse. Dave Linfield is set designer.
This is a warmhearted Christmas show, where faith, kindness and joy win the contest. While many theatergoers will be familiar with the story, it deserves retelling, and the heartfelt performance of Thornell as Kris Kringle may renew your belief in Santa Claus.
IF YOU GO
"Miracle on 34th Street"
7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, 888 Morro St.
$15 to $25