Classic Christmas tale at Stoneham Theatre

The historic Stoneham Theatre re-opened as a professional regional theater in December, 2000 with A Christmas Carol as its very first production. After bringing Dickens’ classic back for the next several seasons, in 2005 and 2006 Stoneham Theatre staged adaptations of a more modern classic, A Christmas Story.
Miracle on 34th Street
Whatever the show, Stoneham Theatre has established a tradition of providing high caliber, wholesome family entertainment at Christmas time. This year is no exception, as another American holiday classic now graces the Stoneham stage.

Miracle on 34th Street tells the story of a cheerful old man with a trim white beard named Kris Kringle (played by William Gardiner). He is forced to give up his room at the Maplewood Home in New York City because the board of directors believes he is mentally unstable. Kris, it seems, believes that he really is Santa Claus.

When Macy’s Christmas Parade director Doris Walker (Christine Hamel) fires the man playing Santa for drinking on the job, Kris agrees to fill in and becomes the New York City department store’s Santa. He almost gets fired himself for providing helpful shopping tips to parents, even if it means recommending a rival store.

As the story goes, of course, Kris creates such good will with the customers that Mr. Macy (Harvey Greenberg) recognizes a great marketing scheme and keeps Kringle on as the store’s Santa.

Meanwhile, Fred Gailey (Timothy Fannon), an attorney and a neighbor of workaholic Doris, has been babysitting Doris’s 9 year-old daughter, Susan (Rebecca Lerman). Doris has discouraged Susan from believing in “fantasies” like Santa Claus. The mother is therefore outraged when Fred takes her daughter to see Santa at the store, especially when the girl starts to believe Kringle’s claim that he really is Santa Claus.

After getting into a beef with the store psychologist over the existence of Santa Claus, Kringle is tricked into agreeing to go to Bellvue mental hospital for an evaluation. At Kringle’s commitment hearing, Fred Gailey serves as his lawyer and is faced with convincing the judge not only that his client is sane, but that he really is Santa Claus.

If you’ve seen the 1947 Academy Award winning film starring Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood, you know the happy outcome. But knowing the ending doesn’t diminish the power of this story to restore the Christmas spirit in even the most determined grinch.

William Gardiner (who played “Ernie the Moocher” in last season’s surprise hit, Guys on Ice) is nearly perfect as the good-natured Kris Kringle. Like Edmund Gwenn in the movie, his performance is capable of making you believe that Kris Kringle really is Santa Claus.

With her high voice and exaggerated New York accent, Alycia Sacco almost steals several scenes as the comically brash and flirtatious Macy’s secretary, Miss Adams.

Other highlights are the performances of the kids in the cast, who range in age from 7 to 12 years old. They include Alexandra Flammia, Rebecca Lerman, Emily Pinto, Michael Sticca and Maria Tramontozzi.

Stoneham Theatre has produced elaborate musical Christmas extravaganzas in the past, but with its simple eloquence and ability to restore belief in the Christmas season, I’ll take Miracle on 34th Street every time.

Miracle on 34th Street runs through December 23 at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St., Stoneham. For show times and tickets, go online at http://www.stonehamtheatre.org, or phone 781-279-2200.

[Miracle on 34th Street, a play from the novel by Valentine Davies. Adapted for the stage by Patricia Di Benedetto Snyder, Will Severin and John Vreeke. Directed by Weylin Symes. Set Design, Katy Monthei. Production Manager, Dave Brown. Lighting Designer, Franklin Meissner, Jr. Production Stage Manager, Melissa Daroff. Sound Designer, Ben Emerson. Costume Design, Joanna E. Murphy.]

This review originally appeared in the December 4, 2007 Wakefield Daily Item.

Read my column No Miracle Trip for Winchester Students, about a middle school that canceled a trip to see this show because of objections to its “Santa content.”


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