Miracle on 34th Street is ‘presented so elegantly’
- Credit: Town and Gown pub and theatre
The Town and Gown pub theatre, right in the heart of Cambridge, invites you to become the audience at an American radio studio for Miracle on 34th Street as a radio play.
The setting feels absolutely right.
Signs are held up for us to applaud. “Laugh loud,” we are told “So Uncle Tim and Aunt Betty who are listening at home can hear you.”
Let’s face it, Miracle on 34th Street, which has been a 1940s film, a 1990s film, a 1950s television show, a 1960s Broadway show and yes, a 1947 Lux Radio Hour broadcast, which is the version we see here - is pure schmaltz.
But lo, in the hands of seven hugely talented actors – some with remarkable singing voices – able to perform blissful 1940s-style harmonies, it’s an absolute joy.
Especially as the story is interlaced with almost every old Christmas Ballard you remember – and delightful commercial jingles: “Brought to you by Tupperware…Pack away your meal/with our burp and seal…”
All accompanied on piano by musical director, Ralph Warman who also plays parts various.
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The songs are so wonderfully sung that they could be an evening’s entertainment in themselves.
Fringe theatre this may be but the cast are professionals trained in musical theatre and they have the 1940s American voices and demeanour fine-tuned down to the sparkle in their eyes.
The story is told of Kris Kringle an elderly, white bearded old gentleman who steps in to play Santa Claus at Macy’s Department Store in New York – and then gets taken to court because he insists that he really is Father Christmas.
He is played by Kerry Frater, whose affability and velvet tones are the living image of an avuncular Santa. You would struggle not to believe him.
Others in the cast play multiple roles. Everyone is on stage all the time.
If they are not at the front, standing at the microphones, acting out the story or singing to have you on the edge of your seat – drinking it in - they are at the back making genuine Foley sound effects – named after sound artist Jack Foley who started working with Universal Studios in 1914.
Someone crunches a plate of cornflakes to emulate walking on snow.
Or they tap the keys of a typewriter for an office scene or ring a bell to indicate a character arriving in a lift. They clatter plates to accompany clearing up after a meal.
The rather clever set even has a packet of Kellogg’s Cornflakes on a shelf with a huge Santa on it.
Plaudits to all the cast who each give supreme performances: Sam Carlyle playing Doris Walker, the Macy’s single-parent employee who has hired Kris Kringle but has brought up her daughter not to believe in the myth.
We certainly believe in her. William Spencer as lawyer Fred Gailey who falls in love with Doris and also represents Kris in court.
I’m sure I saw tears in his eyes when he and Doris temporarily broke up – and Laura Cove and Anton Tweedale who each play a kaleidoscope of parts. At one point Tweedale is playing three characters at once and two of them are singing.
Doris’s daughter Susan is played through the run by four Cambridge children aged between eight and 12. I saw the excellent Anika Pradeep whose performance convinced me she really did live in a flat in New York. I could see it.
Directed by Karl Steele of the Town and Gown as an in-house production, it’s presented so elegantly that I almost got sentimental at the end – though of course it’s all nonsense. There is no Santa….is there?
Miracle on 34th Street is at The Town and Gown, Cambridge until December 24. Evenings 7.30pm with weekend matinees at 2.30pm and on Christmas Eve at 1pm and 5pm. Suitable for ages eight upwards.