'Miracle on 34th Street'

Teen Musical Theater of Oregon presents Meredith Willson's Christmas classic
Kelsey Tidball, 17, left, Maddie Day, 12, and Michael J. Hume star in TMTO's production of “Miracle on 34th Street.”Jamie Lusch

Kris Kringle is just a kindhearted, eccentric old man with a white beard and a lot of Christmas spirit, or is he? Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Michael J. Hume plays Kringle, Macy's department store's very convincing Santa, in Teen Musical Theater of Oregon's production of "Miracle on 34th Street."

Hume and a cast of 36 aspiring young actors, ages 9 to 18, will present the holiday classic at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, and at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.

If you go

What: "Miracle on 34th Street"

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, and 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15

Where: Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford

Tickets: $18, $9 for ages 18 and younger

Call: 541-779-3000

"Miracle and 34th Street," the musical, also called "Here's Love," was written and composed by playwright Meredith Willson ("The Music Man" and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown") and is based on the 1947 film, "Miracle on 34th Street," starring Maureen O'Hara. The musical opened on Broadway in 1963.

"I'm trying to pull all the warmness and Christmas spirit out of the script," says Andrea Hochkeppel, 24, a professional New York actress who is directing and choreographing this production. (Hochkeppel also choreographed TMTO's production of "Pippin.")

At the request of the Craterian's executive director Stephen McCandless, Hume joined the cast as Kringle.

"I'm a 60-year-old character man, and Santa Claus has to be on my bucket list," says Hume, who dyed his hair white for the show and asked OSF to build him a realistic-looking beard.

The story, which is rife with 1960s topical references, is set in New York City. Macy's events director and no-nonsense single mother, Doris Walker (Kelsey Tidball) asks Kringle to fill in as Santa for the Thanksgiving Day parade and later hires him to be the store's Santa. Kringle epitomizes the Christmas spirit. He's happy. He's generous, and he conceives a very successful sales pitch for Macy's.

Kringle, with help from ex-marine and lawyer Fred Gaily (Adam Lohman), goes against Walker's skepticism and tries to convince her 6-year-old daughter Susan (Madeline Day) that he is the real deal.

"She (Doris Walker) taught her daughter not to believe in anything she can't see, smell, taste or touch, including prince charming, the Easter bunny and Santa Claus," Hochkeppel says.

When Kringle claims to be Santa, his sanity is questioned, and Gaily must defend him in court.

"The big question is: Is he really Santa, or is he a crazy guy who thinks he's Santa?" Hume says. "I'm not going to tell."

In the play version of the show, the adults, Gaily and Walker, are much more hostile toward one another than they are in the film, Hume says. Nonetheless, a love affair develops.

The show features about a dozen lively songs, including the holiday favorite "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," which was penned by Willson in 1951 and appears in the program as "Pinecones and Holly Berries." The song was made popular by Perry Como, Bing Crosby and others.

The program also includes "Arm in Arm," "Here's Love," "My Wish" and "The Man Over There Is Santa Claus."

Music Director John Taylor compiled the instrumental tracks. Costumes are by Sue Quakenbush, vocal direction is by Josh Killingsworth, lighting is by Brad Nelson and sets are by Doug Ham.

"It's professionally staged, so there's huge, amazing sets, and they (the kids) get to work on a professional stage with professional light and orchestration by John Taylor," Hochkeppel says. "It's not your average high-school production."

Tickets cost $18, $9 for ages 18 and younger, and are available at the Craterian box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., Medford, and www.craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.

The Craterian also is teaming up with Macy's for its holiday "Believe" campaign. Before the show, patrons can leave letters to Santa in the big red mailboxes in the lobby of the theater. For every letter received, Macy's will donate $1 — up to $1 million — to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions.

"Everybody at the show will find their own level of faith and belief in magic," Hochkeppel says.

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