Miracle on 34th Street opened to a full house on Saturday evening. A line had formed outside of the building and extra seating was being arranged in the balcony. This all proved to be a good omen, as Front and Centre Stage Productions later put on one of the stronger shows of its history. Opening to a solid weekend of sold out performances at the New Embassy Theater, the cast of Miracle brought a dose of holiday cheer to downtown Cumberland.
The adaptation was an interesting interpretation of the original 1947 film. The writers (the Mountain Community Theatre based on the book by Valentine Davies) highlighted the well-known scenes and it translated to the stage very well, except for a rather drawn-out courtroom scene. Otherwise, it was quite enjoyable. The Director, Kimberly Rowley, chose to set the story in the present and change the genders of several supporting roles. This was all taken in stride by the cast and none of the original charm was lost. It also avoided any anachronisms and ensured that all the roles were portrayed by skilled and dedicated actors, instead of a body to fill a place on the stage.
Kris Kringle is played by Ron Growden, who gives a very authentic performance as the Santa we all know and love – big shoes to fill!
Angela Merrithew plays an assertive, yet sweet Doris Walker, whose past prevents her from truly connecting with her future. Her daughter, Susan, is played by Kaylee Fair, a young actress who is best described as bright-eyed and precocious. Michael Merrithew plays a sincere and gentle Fred Gayley and works well opposite the many mood changes of the Doris role. Kris Kringle is played by Ron Growden, who gives a very authentic performance as the Santa we all know and love – big shoes to fill! He handles the part with ease and is the catalyst for much of the on-stage chemistry between the other actors. His special bond with both Susan and Fred Gayley are among the most touching scenes, showing the very human sides of these roles.
The supporting cast is equally engaging with various ensembles ranging from a children’s choir, to a group of unionized elves, to a pack of adults filling in whenever necessary. Mark Ashby plays Judge Henry Harper with a remarkable attention to detail: every minute action and reaction is calculated to give a very genuine performance of a man dealing with quite the drama – can reason and logic be abandoned for hope and simple faith? Desiree Growden charms the audience as the slightly frazzled, but always in control, Ms. Shellhammer. Kedra Gowans is also noteworthy as the stressed, yet strong, Charlene Halloran, Judge Harper’s campaign manager. Most impressive is the sheer organization and coordination of such a large cast, which must be credited to the behind the scenes technicians and Director.
Without a doubt, the best part was being seated next to a 10-year-old girl who had no qualms with chattering through the more exciting scenes. When Susan found Kris Kringle’s cane in their new house, my little friend exclaimed, “By the fireplace?! Seriously?!” Hearing this little girl – whom I had never met before – get so caught up in the story illustrated the beauty of this play, sending home the message that, yes, the toys are important, but what’s essential is the belief in the magic of the season and the faith that things have a way of working out.
Advisory: Reservations are strongly encouraged and can be made by calling 301-697-7183. Click here for a radio interview of members of the cast.
Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes with a 20-minute intermission.
Front and Center Stage Production’s Miracle on 34th Street at the New Embassy Theater at 49 Baltimore Street, Cumberland, MD, is playing through December 16, 2012. For tickets call 301-697-7183 or click here.