Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Miracle on 34th Street
Desert Stages Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Disgraced, Fiddler on the Roof, Alan Cumming: Uncut, and Sunday in the Park with George


Josephine Raia and Dan Ashlock
Photo by Heather Butcher
Valentine Davies won an Academy Award for coming up with the original story for the 1947 classic film Miracle on 34th Street. This heartwarming holiday story, which pits a man who believes he is Santa Claus against a cynical mother and her daughter, has been adapted into a theatrical version which also features the familiar, feel-good themes of the movie. Desert Stages Theatre presents a fine production of Davies' familiar tale that includes a delightful performance by Dan Ashlock as Kris Kringle.

The play follows fairly closely the basic plot of the film. Doris Walker, single mother and the director of events at Macy's, is cynical after her divorce and has imparted her lack of trust and beliefs onto her daughter Susan. These include the fact that Santa Claus is just a man Doris has hired to push overstocked toys to children who wait in line to see him, not someone to believe in. Next door neighbor Fred Gailey has taken a shine to Susan and Doris and, along with the latest man she has hired to play Santa who calls himself Kris Kringle and tells everyone he is the real Santa, encourages Susan start to change her mind and believe in Santa Claus. Can they also melt the ice around Doris' heart as well and get her to start to believe? California's Mountain Community Theater did the original adaptation of the Davies story in the early 1980s and their script is perfectly charming, though it doesn't really add anything original to the story, thus the end result is basically just the movie on stage.

Director Virginia Olivieri gets effective, heartfelt performances from her cast who are up to the challenge of bringing this well-known story to life. Dan Ashlock is simply lovely as Kris. He is charismatic and genuine, with the appropriate twinkle in his eye that makes you believe he is the real Santa. Kellie Dunlap and Keaton Honaker are Doris and Fred. They make a cute, realistic couple, with Honaker especially charming and good in the courtroom scenes. Dunlap chooses to use the type of line delivery that borders but never crosses over to melodrama, which is more associated with the original 1950s time period of the setting and film, which comes across well. However, the fact that the rest of the cast doesn't take that approach is a bit of a distraction. However, Dunlap is still winning in the part as is Honaker, and they form a fun couple that you root for. Josephine Raia has great stage presence as Susan, though she should slow down her line delivery just a bit so her words can all be better understood. Honaker and Dunlap also portray a natural relationship with Raia. As both Doris' frenzied co-worker Shellhammer and the judge who is a factor in most of the second act, John Mueller does a fine job. He gives an effective portrayal of Shellhammer's nervous demeanor as well as the Judge's concern for doing the right thing.

Paul Filan's set design includes a lovely monochrome backdrop of the New York City skyline and multi-purpose set pieces that change to form the various locations of the plot. Rhea and Mickey Courtney's colorful costumes combine seamlessly with Olivieri's hair and make-up creations to portray period perfect designs.

Since the film is so well known, the play version of Miracle on 34th Street may be an unoriginal way to spend the holidays, especially since the theatrical version doesn't add much to the original film plot. However, the charming story, likable characters, and heartwarming themes are still meaningful. Even if you know the film plot twists by heart, with good performances from the leads, including a touching turn by Dan Ashlock as Kris Kringle, and firm direction, you will most likely have an enjoyable time seeing the this version. Don't be surprised if you find yourself holding back tears as well.

Miracle on 34th Street at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale, through January 10th, 2016. For tickets and information, call 480 483-1664 or visit desertstages.org.

Adapted by Mountain Community Theater from the novel by Valentine Davies. Based upon the Twentieth Century Fox motion picture Miracle on 34th Street.
Directed by Virginia Olivieri
Set Design by Paul Filan
Costume Design by Rhea and Mickey Courtney
Lighting & Sound Designer: Matt Stetler
Props: Justin Heffner

Cast:
Kris Kringle: Dan Ashlock
Doris: Kellie Dunlap
Fred: Keaton Honaker
Susan: Josephine Raia
Shellhammer/Judge: John Mueller
Dr. Pierce/Sawyer: Mark Honaker
Mara/Sharon's Parent/Caroler: Marie Helen Labadie
Ensemble/Parent/Caroler: Deryl Wayne
Ensemble/ Parent/Caroler: Grace Haverstock
Ensemble/Dutch Girl: Ashley Rhoads
Dutch Foster Parent/Caroler/Finley: Starr Roeder
Child/ Mara's Daughter: Olivia Feldman/Marissa Reaves


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