Do you believe in Santa Claus? The folks down at The Laurel Mill Playhouse do as they present a wonderfully heart-warming familiar holiday tale Miracle on 34th Street, adapted by Mountain Community Theater from the novel by Valentine Davies, and based on the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street.
Directed by Michael V. Hartsfield with a cast of almost 30 people, both adults and children, the show tells the classic story of a man hired to play the Macy’s department store Santa Claus in a pinch after the previous one is found drunk with a bottle of ‘holiday spirit’ in his hand. The twist therein lies that the man hired, Kris Kringle, is actually Santa Claus. Or at least he thinks he’s Santa Claus. Holiday spirits soar as the story unfolds, ultimately resulting in a trial to see if the man can be proven as the one and only Santa Claus.
With all the right festive festoons- the set, designed by Michael Hartsfield, simply screams, “Season’s Greetings!” from the moment you lay eyes on it. The tiny tree covered in lights with the giant Macy’s store emblem on the stand table lets the audience know that they’ve entered a department store at Christmas time. There are bright white lights strung across the top edge of the stage and strands of garland mounted on the walls, even poinsettias gathered around Santa’s chair to give a bright yuletide feeling of great joy. Blending with the modern Michael Buble soundtrack that is piped through the house before the show begins and then during brief scene changes, the holiday spirit radiates through audience members one and old bringing a sense of merriment and smiles on everyone’s faces as this classic tale is told.
In addition to the festive set, the costumes are the shining star upon the highest bough of this Christmas production. Designed by Costumer Kim Delk – we see an array of holiday colors befitted to the actors throughout the show, the most unique being the five matching elf outfits. Bright green dresses with red sleeves and red collar trim are accompanied by oversized yellow buttons giving the five elves (Sharon Gilbertz, Amanda Smith, Amy Vecheck, Nicole Woody, and Kayleen Yermal) a very impish almost toy-like look to them. Delk completes these fantasy costumes with matching pointy elf hats and green jingle-bell pointed shoes. We see red velvet dresses outfitted on Susan (Grace La Count) and a traditional red plaid nightgown for this character as well, really letting the colors of the holiday shine through the costumes.
What holiday would be complete without a little sense of confusion and the play manages just that with its attempt to go slightly modern in this production. Rather than Macy’s and Gimbles it’s Macy’s and Bloomingdales, and the prices of toys are reflected to a modern point of comparison but other than the cell phones used near the beginning of the show and the modern watch on Mr. Gayley (Joseph Mariano), we don’t get many other hints toward modernism. Perhaps Director Hartsfield was going for just enough to give a taste of the modern world- but it unfortunately played out as slightly confusing. But that minor confusion aside, it is almost exactly as everyone remembers it- with a jovial Santa, a doubting little girl, and some other quirky characters along for the ride.
Susan (Grace La Count) is the doubting Debbie of Christmas thanks to her mother, Doris (Kathy Wenerick-Bell) and the firm belief that children should grow up in reality, not with their minds clouded full of imagination and delusions. La Count portrays a precocious youth who is adamant in her disbelief of Santa Claus, but as the character slowly starts to believe, reflection of that belief shines brightly from her eyes. She bounces around the stage with all the right energy and mannerisms of a well-raised matter-of-fact ten-year-old little girl.
But the true spirit of Christmas manifests itself in Kris Kringle (Mike Galizia). Aside from looking the part down to every last details, Galizia boasts a deep rich voice and a hearty chuckle that causes his large stomach to shake like a bowl full of jelly. The brilliant twinkle in his eye and the all knowing smile that gives each time he encounters a child or one of the elves is the epitome of Santa Claus, so much so that you’d believe Galizia sprang forth from the pages of Clement C. Moore’s classic poem.
There is a heart-warming moment when a little Dutch girl (Lillie Jewell-Dean) is seated on Galizia’s lap and as the story goes, he sings a song in Dutch just as the real Santa Claus would. Galizia may not be fluent in the language – but he sings the song in perfect timing with the little girl making the audience believe in Christmas miracles. We even have a moment where Santa and some of the random New York City folk are out caroling and the audience is graced with a deep rich baritone sound as Galizia joins in the merriment and sings along. A splendid Santa portrayal if I ever did see one, and yes, I think I do believe.
But watch out Kris Kringle, for while Galizia may have everyone’s attention he has two contenders who vie for the audience’s attention in equally riveting performances of their over-the-top quirky supporting characters. Mr. Sawyer (Ed Higgins) is the Macy’s personnel evaluator, and Higgins makes a bold choice to play this character as an off-the-wall nut-job, complete with distressed voice, nervous mannerisms and eccentric gestures and movements to match. He provides hysterical comic relief every time he enters the stage, marching in straight lines making sharp 90 degree turns as he changes directions. And when he speaks the squeaking, nasally stammering, and overall jittery excitement of his voice has the audience in riotous laughter every time he speaks. The character’s peculiar affinity with the disbelief in Santa is played well through these choices and Higgins adapts them with a level of unmatched bouncing energy to the point of over dramatization, making the character that much funnier.
We also see great comic relief in the judge’s campaign manager, Mr. Halloran (Derek A. Cooper). Cooper plays this character with high energy levels expounded through exasperation and frustration when pleading with Judge Harper (Tim Wolf). His facial expressions are priceless as he argues the importance of not ruling against the existence of Santa Claus. Cooper steals every scene he’s in, though there are only a few of them toward the end of the show.
So bring your letters to Santa, and renew your belief in the holiday spirit with the Laurel Mill Playhouse’s production of Miracle on 34th Street. Be sure to purchase tickets in advance!! Opening night was sold out with standing room only.
Miracle on 34th Street runs through December 18th at the Laurel Mill Playhouse -508 Main Street, in Laurel MD. Tickets for Laurel Mill Playhouse performances are sold at the door on the day of the performance. They strongly recommend that you make a telephone reservation in advance by calling (301) 617-9906.