Friday, 6 December 2013



Theatre Run: Thursday 05 - Saturday 07 December
Performance Viewed: Thursday 05 December (Press Night)

Reviewed by Kyle Pedley

I’m going to go out on a limb and say the majority of people who pay to go and see a musical version of ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ are likely in the market for something to top up their festive spirit. Either those familiar with the movie version (be it the 1947 or ’94 incarnations) or generally enthused about the time of year to indulge in a bit of added mirth and merriment.

That being said, even the most ardent of Christmas fans (of which I, seriously, count myself amongst) may find themselves a little unprepared for the sheer amount of cheesy, old fashioned camp and schmaltz liberally applied throughout this touring version of ‘The People versus old Saint Nick’. And that isn’t necessarily a critique, per se, for if any show can justify ratcheting up an almost parodic level of feel good and niceness, it’s this one.

A Miracle on 34th Street follows the story of kindly Kris Kringle, employed by a pragmatic, no-nonsense Macy’s manager to act as the stores’ resident Santa Claus. Initially proving problematic by referring his visitors to other stores to get better offers on their Christmas wishes, the management team eventually come to realise the positive PR opportunity they have on their hands and scoop him up as a permanent store fixture. Unfortunately, doubt and competition come knocking and Kringle is forced to testify his sanity and claims in court to avoid being committed for his claims of being the actual Santa. 

The adaptation work done with the original story is a little haphazard in places, most glaringly in its underdevelopment of the Kris Kringle character himself and the claims surrounding him. In the movies, the character’s convictions are clearly established from the offset, and repeatedly explored throughout the subsequent court case. In this particular show, Kringle takes something of a backseat throughout, and only occasionally asserts who he believes himself to be. It massively undermines the purpose of the entire show when we have such a bold claim, an individual claiming to be Santa Claus, who only occasionally acts or professes to be so. Likewise, there’s no real contextualising of the opposition - in the 1994 film, for instance, a jealous competitive store sets up a staged assault to frame the positive PR storm Kringle is providing, whereas the prosecution here seems to rest solely on woolly claims from a bizarrely implemented and questionable psychologist figure whose single scene does little to clarify his bias and motivation for wanting to take Kringle down.

Similarly, the character of Susan, the young girl who initially refuses to believe in anything that cannot be affirmed by her sense, thanks to the influence of her practical, love-damaged mother, is also heavily underused, and it is both she and Kringle who lend heart and empathy to the original films. Her journey from skeptic to believer is almost non-existent, her faith and belief in both Kringle and surrogate father-to-be Fred happening in rapid succession. Hasty, underdeveloped and abrupt is in fact the general criticism that can be levelled at much of the storytelling and character work here, with the only exception being the love story that gradually blossoms between Susan’s mother, Doris, and Kringle’s eventual attorney Fred, though that too seems plucked from a rejected Rodgers and Hammerstein, and screams of a stereotypical, almost achingly old-fashioned approach to musical theatre romance, being quite possibly the cheesiest strand in an exceptionally cheddarly whole. 

The musical numbers by Lee Freeman and Thomas Turner are mostly forgettable affairs, with the first act in particular suffering from a plethora of samey saccharine warbles on love and well-meaning. In fairness, the second act goes on to benefit from a handful of exceptions such as the charismatic ‘She hadda’ go back’, the jaunty ‘That Man Over There’ which sees Paul Cleveland come into his own as the formerly somewhat villainous Macy, and the anthematic-lite ‘My State My Kansas’ which seems to be one of the few times Freeman and Turner attempt to use the medium of the musical and its application of song in a less overt and more inventive, characterful manner.

Still, despite these qualms, it is genuinely difficult to not find yourself liking the show as a whole, even with it being as subtle as a sledgehammer and positively bursting at the seams with cliche and familiarity. It’s big, festive fun and wheeled out in fairness by a cast who put in suitably jovial and spirited performances. James Murphy makes a wonderful Kris Kringle, and Poppy Carter as young Susan not only nails the American tang with aplomb but also gives one of the casts most accomplished and disciplined performances in terms of both acting and vocals. Genevieve Nicole’s West End and Broadway experience shines through every time she takes to the stage as Doris, and Daniel Fletcher manages to channel a fairly tricky balance of old Hollywood charm with a dash of debonair goofiness as Fred. 

In all, it is difficult to gauge and pass judgement on exactly how successful A Miracle on 34th Street is as a theatrical production. It is extremely old-fashioned and derivative, somewhat wobbly in regards to its narrative and character work, padded with mostly forgettable tunes and its having taken inspiration primarily from a nearly 70-year-old movie can be felt at almost every instance. Still, this critic in particularly genuinely enjoyed it, for it bounces along with irrepressible vim and positivity, and if you can’t overdose on goodwill and sentimentality at Christmastime, then you never can. Much of this review has focused on the criticisms and potential negatives, but what the show does have in bountiful amounts is a spring in its step, a smile on its sleeve and just enough heart to justify all that cheese.

(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * (3 out of 5 Stars)

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET is running at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham from Thursday 5 to Saturday 7 December 2013.

CLICK HERE for more information on the shows' run at the New Alexandra and to book your tickets!

Alternatively phone the Telephone Booking line on 0844 871 3011.

Press tickets for this performance of Miracle on 34th Street were provided courtesy of The New Alexandra Theatre directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.

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