OCT stages a Christmas miracle
The feel-good show of the season is Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s “Miracle on 34th Street,” a production that will have you believing in Santa Claus no matter your convictions. The play opened last week to a full house, with poinsettias everywhere, the savory smells of roast turkey and braised short ribs, and carols crooned next to a baby grand.
“Miracle on 34th Street” is a play about a radio adaptation of the 1947 film that was released to wide acclaim in the post-WWII era. Kris Kringle stops in at Macy’s, a lawyer proves in a court of law that Kris Kringle is real, and the miracle of faith is transformative. The show boasts a consumer-driven American society, the post-war dream of wealth and prosperity, new confidence in science and a healthy skepticism of tradition.
The show is set in New York City over the Thanksgiving holidays, so get ready for a dose of Noo Yawk accents, the legendary competition between Macy’s and Gimbles, and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
Chief skeptics are Katie Worley Beck as Doris Walker, who has a position of some authority at Macy’s, and her daughter, Susan Walker, played by Jocelyn Smith, who is in seventh grade at Scenic Middle School in Central Point (and on alternate nights by Cameron Weiland, in sixth grade at Hedrick Middle School in Medford).
Both Beck and Smith are controlled, joyless and impassive in their roles until their inner hearts are awakened with love, livened in belief. The two nicely show the progression of the narrative and reflect the humanization of an ambitious society; Beck and Smith are increasingly animated as Doris and Susan Walker come to believe in Santa, find love, have faith and, at last, all is well in their world.
Jocelyn Smith as young Susan is mature beyond her years, and in her performance she reveals the hard work and training of a dedicated professional. As Susan, Smith is decked out in pigtails, braces and flats, but her voice is strong, and she is poised and confident on stage.
Grady Williams, played by Jake Delaney, never lost his belief in Kris Kringle. Delaney as Williams is a good-willed man, ready to cast off corporate America for a white picket fence and private practice. His demeanor is open and honest, and so is his heart, his faith never faltering, sustaining all around him.
There are many highlights to “Miracle on 34th Street.” A standout is Michael J. Hume, big-bellied, white-bearded and jolly as Kris Kringle. Some of us have come to know and love Hume from his years at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where his performances resonate as clearly as his stentorian voice. Hume is a wonderful Kris Kringle, as he deciphers a new America and sets a new course for all those he encounters.
The ensemble establishes the background, characters and movement of the retro radio show and are delightful. Live Foley effects abound from a small table off to the side: doors bang, telephones ring, elevator bells chime and high heels click. Expect product placement throughout — Tupperware, RCA, Camel cigarettes — these singing commercials punctuate the play and signal a change in place or intent, and often follow a “Perils of Pauline” ending to a segment, “Stay tuned!” That’s Andy Hudson in his debut at OCT; he’s on the piano, announcing the show and managing the pace of the production.
Courtney Crawford channels Lucille Ball — slender, red-haired and with face, eyes and body so mobile you’ll laugh out loud. And Alex Boyles is hilarious as he squeaks and geeks through several male characters.
So, yes, Southern Oregon, there is a Santa Claus, and this season you’ll find Santa at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre.
“Miracle on 34th Street,” directed by Galloway Stevens, continues at OCT, at First and Hargadine streets in Ashland, through Dec. 31. Tickets are available at OregonCabaret.com or by calling the box office at 541-488-2902.
Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at email@example.com.