You can believe in miracles.
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET has been around the block a few times. It began as a 1947 movie starring John Payne, Maureen O’Hara and a young Natalie Wood, was adapted for television in 1955, then written as the Broadway musical Here’s Love (by Meredith Willson of Music Man fame) in 1963, adapted again in 1973 and yet again in 1994 (staring Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins and Dylan McDermott). The version presented by The Wilmington Drama League is the renamed 1963 musical by Willson.
The story, woven from true holiday spirit, is a fond memory for many. Doris Walker is the no nonsense, single parent of precocious six-year old Susan. Susan not only calls her mother by her first name but also freely speaks her mind with the utmost of “realistic” of outlooks, including stating that Santa Claus isn’t real. It is at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade that Susan meets her neighbor, former Marine and newly licensed attorney, Fred Gailey. When Susan describes the handsome neighbor as “sentimental,” Doris corrects her: “You mean corny.” These are two tough girls facing the world together.
Needing to replace a drunken Santa for the parade float, Doris, in the course of her duties as the special events director for Macy’s, hires an older, white whiskered fellow who just happens to be in the right place at the right time. Throw the Santa suit on him and, viola! Being the savviest of businesswomen, Doris employs Kris (Jack Jordan) as Macy’s head Santa. Who is the magical man who speaks Dutch, knows what gift every child wants and believes love and compassion are the roots of humanity? Why the one and only, Kris Kringle, of course.
The holiday cheer is well underway until Kris tells a Macy’s customer that the present she is looking for is sold by a Macy’s competitor. [You mean there was retail competition back in the 40’s?] Kris’ indiscretion leads to an appointment with Human Resources and an intelligence test. Testing doesn’t go as planned and Kris ends up in Bellevue’s mental ward because he continuously says he is the real Santa Claus. Despite reassurances by the doctor that he is harmless, Doris’ misgivings keep her from believing, even though all those around her, especially Susan, begin to notice there is something special about Kris. Is Kris really Santa Claus? The State of New York doesn’t believe him and so Kris finds himself in Court, being represented by novice attorney, Fred, in a desperate plea to prove he is the one and only, Santa Claus. Being the show of miracles, not only does the State of New York concede that Kris Kringle and Santa Claus are one in the same, but Doris and Susan find that even the most “realistic” of outlooks have room for lovely intangibles.
I attended the delayed opening night which was simply not up to par. Actors didn’t know lines or songs, crackly monitors, poor sound levels on musicians, body microphone issues, light cues that were missed, and fussy sets. As I sat, I watched the show progress into an unrecoverable downward spiral, especially during the finale. Given my knowledge of the WDL and the actors involved, I couldn’t help walking out of the building thinking, “Why did it go so wrong?” The answer dropped on my head like a ton of bricks, or, should I say, wet snow. The unexpected crappy weather cancelled rehearsals, caused an abbreviated tech run plus delayed opening. What I witnessed really wasn’t a show; it was more akin to a run through. So, with this being Christmas and all, I asked Stage Director, Eric Merlino, if he would like another shot. Now, here’s where the miracle really happens.
I attended the third performance in the run. What a difference a few days without the interference of Mother Nature can do. The actors, musician and crew pulled it together. The show is bouncy fun for all ages. Kudos to everyone involved! But, no matter which show I think about, it’s Catherine Rose Enslen and her portrayal of Susan that stands out in my head.
There are several talented veteran actors on stage, including Kathy Butterbaugh (Doris Walker), Tony DelNegro (Fred Gailey), Henry Porecca (Judge Martin Group), Dan Tucker (D.A. Thomas Mara), Andrew Chambless (Mr. Sawyer), Mark Dixon (Mr. Tammany) and Bill Swezey (R.H. Macy), but Miss Enslen isn’t even slightly intimidated. Watching young actors blossom on stage always brings a smile to my face, especially when they go toe-to-toe with adults and come out on top. Miss Enslen has just the right amount of sass and spunk; never a bratty moment or pouty face (unless called for). She energizes her scenes. Her singing is lovely. She and her bunny slippers tie for cuteness.
The majority of ensemble members are young actors with a variety of experience. There’s not a lot of stage time for the ensemble. When they do take the stage, they create a pleasant background. Some wobbles, cracks and tentative entrances are to be expected from young performers working with a pit band placed behind the stage while utilizing on-stage monitor screens to see the Music Director (Penny Carmack). Highlights for me were the songs That Man Over There, Arm in Arm and Bugles (sung in Dutch so sweetly by Lexie Rubican, I wanted an encore). And, with this second chance performance, it became easy to believe in miracles.
I had a chance to speak with the effervescent Miss Enslen before the show. When Cat (as she is known to her friends) learned of the audition, she watched the original movie version of Miracle and instantly knew she was Susan. She won the role after auditioning with her rendition of the song, Gary, Indiana from The Music Man. Cat found learning her lines and music much easier than the dance steps, “I’m kinda bad at dancing.” The eleven-year old student will next appear in Christ the Teacher’s production of The Wizard of Oz as Mayor Munchkin. The young actor is “super excited” to be “doing her thing” with the MIRACLE cast and crew.
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET
December 13 – 28, 2013
Book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson
Story by Valentine Davies
Directed by Eric Merlino
Music Directed by Penny Carmack
The Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE 19802