MIRACLE ON 34th STREET
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 15th November, 2017
For their Christmas production this year, BMOS have chosen to mount this musical adaptation of a creaky old film, a perennial favourite – in the USA more than here perhaps. The story of a department store Father Christmas who claims to be the real deal and is put on trial for his sanity.
Things are much worse over there than they are here – in terms of the commercialisation of Christmas, I mean. Although… there are people here who get all excited about department stores’ Christmas TV ads and practically wet their pants to see a lorry delivering Coca-Cola… so the rot is definitely spreading!
Written by Meredith (Music Man) Willson, the show is a cracker that doesn’t bang. The original songs are uniformly awful and unmemorable – for which I am grateful – and the book is leaden and cringeworthy.
Jo Smith (Doris, shopworker and single mom) and Matt Collins (Fred,ex-army, wannabe lawyer and child befriender) work hard to bring life to the clunky dialogue but they are acted off the stage by young Willow Heath as Susan. Heath is spot on in terms of accent and intonation, and we are spared moments of saccharine sentimentality. Stewart Keller’s Kris Kringle thaws as the action unfolds. At first he’s a little pompous and you don’t know if he’s going to sell you a bucket of chicken or unleash resurrected dinosaurs.
Director Suzi Budd’s choreography gets interesting during a comic number (‘She Hadda Go Back’) performed by Fred and a bunch of marines. Unfortunately, the song is totally extraneous in terms of plot development and should be cut – anything to shorten the show’s overly long running time.
John Spencer gives a pleasing turn as shop mogul R H Macy but there is one cast member whose performance is of a highly professional standard, in a detailed but larger-than-life characterisation and with a fully supported singing voice: the incomparable Mark Shaun Walsh as Doris’s uptight assistant Mr Shellhammer. Walsh is an uplifting presence and a joy to behold. BMOS are unbelievably lucky to have him in their ranks. No offence to them, but I hope Walsh finds himself a professional engagement worthy of his talents.
The massive troupe work hard to keep things going are there are pleasing moments and amusing touches but I can’t help feeling they are flogging a dead reindeer with this turkey of a show. The time, energy and resources of the company would be better focussed elsewhere, on material worthy of their attention.