Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Miracle On 34th Street The Musical

This review was originally published for The Public Reviews. Click here to see!

Miracle on 34th Street New Theatre Oxford Darren Bell

The original Miracle on 34th Street was a 1947 film, written by playwright Valentine Davies who came up with the idea while waiting in a queue at a department store just before Christmas. In 1963 Meredith Wilson, who had had a previous hit with The Music Man, created the Broadway version, then known as Here’s Love, and following this in 1994 the film version starring Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle made its appearance. The Music Man featured timeless numbers such as ’76 trombones’, but unfortunately the current version of Miracle on 34th Street did not provide any such memorable content.

This time of year is very much consumed by pantomime fever in the theatre world, so it was good to hear that there was potentially another kind of production out there for those who aren’t a fan of the obvious humour and the all-round silliness and tomfoolery. Miracle on 34th Street, however, is almost as cartoonish as the regular pantomime; the characters are 2 dimensional and there is no deep connection made between any of them.

There is more than one story line running throughout the production and they all lack conviction. Doris (Genevieve Nicole) and Susan Walker (Poppy Carter) are a mother and daughter who are practical and straight thinking, and they don’t believe in anything that they can’t touch, see, or smell. That is until Susan meets Kris Kringle (James Murphy) who believes he is the real Santa Claus and, one assumes, convinces the young girl to believe, although her transformation from non-believer to believer is sudden and no progression from one to the other is really displayed on stage. There is also the relationship between Doris and Fred (Daniel Fletcher) that blossoms to love within around thirty minutes in the story and is originated by Fred taking Susan to meet Santa behind Doris’ back. The second half is held mostly in a courtroom, where Kris Kringle and Fred are responsible for proving that Kris really is Santa, although the audience are originally led to believe that he is supposed to be in court facing charges of assault with a walking stick.

For a story that is set in New York there is a particularly low count of East coast accents to be heard; most of them are either southern or west coast sounding, so there is a lack of authenticity in that respect. The ensemble are clearly doing their best, but there is not enough of them to fill the stage and as such it feels empty at times, especially during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that is supposed to be bursting with life, colours, and music, but is reduced to a few cheerleaders and pom poms at the beginning of this show.

Vocally the cast cannot be faulted. Acting wise however, everything seems over the top and it was all too sugary sweet, even for a Christmas show. Most of the jokes fall flat as the delivery is rushed or just timed incorrectly in general. There is just not enough depth and not enough magic, and at this particular performance the children seated around were very restless and did not seem taken by the show at all, which I think speaks volumes.


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