Before America succumbed to the insane ravings of right-wing media nut-jobbery, the only “war on Christmas” was one based in the notion that the birth of Jesus was exploited for profit by retail businesses. There was too much Christmas in the public square, said solemn theologians and some politicians in the 1940s and on into the 1960s. Imagine that, rational objections about too many tacky Christmas decorations in shopping centers, too many “Merry Christmases” from sales-hungry clerks.
That’s the crux of the great 1947 movie Miracle on 34th Street, a semi-musical stage version of which has been revived for the second year running at Dallas Children’s Theater. The movie script by Valentine Davies and George Seaton (who also directed) was turned into a theater piece in 1982 by Northern California’s Mountain Community Theater. At DCT, director Robyn Flatt, associate director K. Doug Miller and musical director Adam C. Wright have enlivened it further by working in a stream of peppy public domain holiday songs (no religious ones, however, and if you complain about that, you are Scrooge incarnate).
On three adjoining stages, scenic designer Bob Lavallee has laid out enormous and delightfully illustrated locations, including Central Park, Macy’s department store, a courtroom, an Italian café, an Upper West Side apartment, a hospital room and other spots. This is first-rate fantasy fun, with every element fitted out with attention to detail. (Video images are by H. Bart McGeehon.)
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The movie plot remains: Marketing whiz Doris Walker (Janelle Lutz, who walks and talks like a 1940s glamazon) oversees Macy’s’ hiring of a new Santa Claus (jolly old Francis Fuselier). But the white-bearded mental patient insists he IS Kris Kringle. Doris’ young daughter Susan (Alexis Hawkins in the performance reviewed) doesn’t believe in Santa until she sees this new one speak Dutch to a refugee child. Could he also bring Susan a daddy and a new house for Christmas? Doris’ bachelor neighbor Fred (Ricco Fajardo) likes those ideas just fine.
The new Santa earns Macy’s fresh media buzz by sending empty-handed parents to rival stores for better toy bargains. Then a dust-up with a fussy employment counselor (Paul Taylor, camping hilariously behind horn-rimmed specs) lands Mr. Kringle in court with a zealous prosecutor (Sterling Gafford, channeling Lionel Barrymore) demanding he prove his identity. (Someone needs to ask Donald Trump if he’d have Santa arrested at the border, and all toymakers, especially elves, put under surveillance.)
The storyline and DCT’s sparkling production are as family-friendly fuzzy as the original flick. Sure, it’s hokum, but it’s good-hearted Christmas hokum we need a little more of right this very minute.
Miracle on 34th Street
continues through December 20 at the Baker Theater, Dallas Children’s Theater, 5938 Skillman St. Tickets $15-$28 at 214-740-0051 or dct.org.