Laurel Mill Playhouse stages a timeless ‘Miracle on 34th Street’
By Patti Restivo
Baltimore Sun Media|
Dec 13, 2019 | 3:02 PM
’Tis the season to revisit sentimental stories, and Laurel Mill Playhouse’s “Miracle on 34th Street” — adapted to stage by Mountain Community Theater and produced and directed here by Maureen Rogers and Jen Sizer, respectively — conjures the timeless magic of the 20th-century American classic with heart.
Based on the novel by Valentine Davies, the film featured Natalie Wood as an 8-year-old and snagged three Academy Awards.
"Miracle on 34th Street" is considered by many to be one of the best films of 1947.
Perennial fans may notice small differences in the stage version, but the story remains as fresh and winning as the warmth that pours from Sizer’s cast.
The “miracle” begins in New York City (on a set designed by Sizer and Erin Klarner) as Dr. Pierce (played by Meghan Safko) discharges a kindly old gentleman (Lenny Dinerman) from a retirement home because its residents are required to be mentally sound, and he insists he’s Kris Kringle.
When Kris asks the doctor what she wants for Christmas from Santa, she answers a new X-ray machine and promises that if he can pull that off, she’ll believe.
Out on his own and homeless, Kris sees an inebriated imposter (Ron Able is a hoot as the drunken Santa) get sacked just before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Macy’s events manager, Doris (Klarner) hires Kris on the spot because he looks the part, and he steps in to unleash an epidemic of goodwill and Christmas spirit in the weeks before Christmas.
Rooming with Doris’s neighbor and budding love interest, Fred Gayley (Michael Safko), Kris befriends Doris’ daughter, Susan (Alexa Bredland), an adorable little girl with a very special wish who yearns to believe in Santa Claus.
But her divorced and disillusioned mother says that Santa is a myth and Kris is just a nice old man.
At stake is the imagination of children everywhere, particularly Susan’s and while the script occasionally makes statements about homelessness, commercialism, philosophy, politics and religion, they are far less obvious than the heartwarming moments created by more than two dozen community actors.
Genuine chemistry between Klarner, Bredland and Michael Safko as Doris, Susan and Fred drives home why the classic is such a family favorite. And Dinerman (who’s been spotted around Laurel’s Main Street as Santa lately) is so convincing that one may wonder if he is, indeed, the real Kris Kringle.
Roshelle Patterson as Doris’s sidekick, Ms. Shellhammer, Tim Evans as R. H. Macy, Larry Simmons as Mr. Gimbel, Christine Johnson as Judge Harper, Lila Brooks as the Prosecutor, Shannon Willing as Sawyer and Mai Krapcho as Halloran all shine bright in their supporting roles.
“Miracle on 34th Street” appeared at Laurel Mill Playhouse for the first time eight years ago. The holiday favorite has lost none of its wonder this go-round, although it remains a worthwhile challenge to stage in the intimate little theater’s space.
Upbeat popular Christmas music from another century softened long scene changes on opening night. Such bumps and hiccups can’t hold a Christmas candle to Dinerman’s standout performance and the cast and crew’s enthusiasm.
“Miracle on 34th Street” continues through Dec. 22 at Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinee performances are at 2 p.m. General admission is $20; active duty military, students (ages 12 and younger) and seniors (ages 65 and older) pay $15. For tickets, go to laurelmillplayhouse.org.