It’s Santa Clause! A Review of Penfold Theatre’s A Miracle on 34th Street by Patrick McElhinney

10805643_10152806837957416_5577291852493687045_nDelightful.  Charming.  Amusing.  Imaginative.  Clever.  Just Plain Fun.

Those are just a few of the descriptors appropriate for the Penfold Theatre Company’s production of  A Miracle on 34th Street Classic Radiocast.  Director Nathan Jenkins, the company’s associate artistic director, has adapted the script of the familiar and beloved 1947 motion picture into a fast-paced 1940’s era live radio broadcast, and he and his excellent cast have provided a delightful, charming, amusing, etc. production that will have even the most curmudgeonly Scrooge leaving the theater with the warm spirit of the holiday season in his or her heart.

As Kris Kringle, Dirk van Allen not only literally looks the part (visit the company’s website to see what I mean) but is throughly convincing in the role of the man who believes he is Santa Claus.  He brings a warmth and sincerity to his character that is engaging and authentic to the spirit of the holiday.

Unlike van Allen, who appropriately maintains his Kris Kringle/Santa Claus persona throughout the performance, the other players — Sarah Marie Curry, Brock England, Julie Linnard, and Joe Hartman — are called on to play multiple roles too numerous to mention here: children, a diabolical personnel director, a fiery lawyer, a single mother who wants to do the right thing, a sassy secretary, the toy department manager, one of Santa’s helpers, competitors Macy and Gimbel, post office employees, a judge and prosecutor, and on and on.  As they go in and out of one role and back again, the players are consistent in their characterizations of the various personalities they are called upon to portray, a credit both to their individual acting skills as well as Jenkins’ direction.  One quibble here: the use of what sounded as deep South accents in one or two of the characterizations was a little off-putting and seemed out of place.

The actors (other than van Allen) were also called upon to produce the sound effects that were characteristic of radio plays.  They did this — shoes walking across the floor, doors opening and closing, and so forth — to great effect.  But another quibble: some of the devices used for creating the effects were hidden from the audience’s view; I would have preferred they had been given more prominence because creating the effects is so much a part of the magic of a radio show and seeing how they were produced would have enhanced the overall production.

There was considerable use of recorded sound effects as well, but this was sometimes a distraction.  Whether it was the volume setting or the placement of the speakers, the background noise effects (e.g., sounds of shoppers in the department store) occasionally competed with the actors’ delivery of their lines.

The show was “interrupted” on two occasions by commercial announcements, including pitches for the Community Impact Newspaper and Atmos Energy.  These commercials, cleverly inserted as an obvious “Thank You” to two of the corporate sponsors of the production, were amusing and added to the charm of the performance.

This production is certainly family-friendly and would be a wonderful introduction for children who might not be familiar with live theater, the history of radio broadcasting before television, and the heart-warming story that teaches “faith is believing in a thing when common sense tells you not to.”  Be sure to explain to them that, back in the day, the rivalry between Macy’s and Gimbel’s was similar to that of Wal-Mart and Target — only more intense.

A Miracle on 34th Street Classic Radiocast continues Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Old Settler’s Hall, 3300 E Palm Valley Road (Highway 79), Round Rock, until December 27, with a matinée on Saturday, December 20 at 3 p.m. (no performance on December 25).

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