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Seasoned cast performs 'Miracle' at OCT

Coming off of a stellar production of Stephen Sondheim’s Gothic classic “Sweeney Todd,” Oregon Cabaret Theatre changed gears this week with a holiday production of “Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Play,” a musical in which Santa Claus turns up at Macy’s headquarters in Manhattan as a plainclothes Kris Kringle, leading to a crisis of faith for some and a renewal of the festive spirit in others.

In what has become an almost foregone conclusion at OCT these days, the show is a great success, with a cast of seasoned artists from the local and national theater. Staging is attractive and holiday-themed, with a baby grand piano at center stage and an abundance of poinsettia plants studding the stage like currants in a Christmas pudding.

As Kris Kringle, Michael J. Hume is a nuanced delight, with requisite gray beard and a knowing twinkle in his eye. Hume — an Oregon Shakespeare Festival staple for years — is a masterful and transfixing presence who anchors the show and provides an elegant and centered portrayal of Saint Nick.

It’s particularly pleasing to see long-time regional performers emerging at the Cabaret, with Alex Boyles and Courtney Crawford taking the stage in this production. Boyles is delightful in various roles billed as “male character actor,” and what a character he is, appearing in many scenes with coke-bottle eyeglasses and an obsequious sensibility, a schmoozing serf to the Macy’s corporation, with an accent reminiscent of a booze-addled Truman Capote. Boyles is a strong performer with an eye for detail.

Crawford, with a long history of performance in the valley, is perhaps the strongest draw in this ensemble production. Showing a compelling gift for comic timing and quick changes, Crawford rocks the house in various roles, the most amusing of which sees her donning an oversized blazer and chomping down on an absurdly large cigar to metamorphosize into the curmudgeonly and conniving RH Macy, the fictional owner of the department store where much of the action takes place. In other scenes, Crawford lays into her female characters with a zany vigor that is reminiscent of lead characters in 1950s sitcoms. She covers all bases as, variously, Groucho Marx, Ralph Kramden and, most notably (when crowned with a red wig reminiscent of an over-caffeinated Orphan Annie), as Lucille Ball. Crawford is one of those rare actors who can step in and out of her character incarnations as effortlessly as an ingenue removing a silk stocking. Watch her as she melts back into the ensemble in between explosive spotlight moments to take over the more mundane task of manning the Foley effects. She is the personification of professionalism.

A romance blossoms as a sidebar to the main story between a forlorn Macy’s manager and a melancholic lawyer, played by Katie Beck and Jake Delaney respectively. Beck is excellent as Doris Walker, a cautious but lonely single mother living with her daughter in the same Park Avenue building as her avid juridical suitor. As Fred Gailey, Delaney is compelling, with an eye on his prize and an endearing earnestness.

As Doris’s daughter and, initially, Santa’s analytical foil, Jocelyn Smith delivers a lovely and detailed performance as Susan Walker, a young lady who starts as a cynic but finishes as a true believer in the magic of Christmas. Smith is absorbing and excellent in a performance that belies her years.

Andy Hudson is excellent on piano and handles the keyboard with grace and aplomb.

On the whole, Director Galloway Stevens has crafted a fabulous show. “Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Play” is a family-friendly and fun production that is worth your time — a great start to the festive season.

The show runs through Dec. 31. For information, see https://oregoncabaret.com/ or call the box office at 541-488-2902.

Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a columnist, arts reviewer and cultural commentator. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.