Theatre review: Miracle on 34th Street (Pitlochry Festival Theatre)

Miracle on 34th Street
Miracle on 34th Street

Do you believe in Santa Claus? That’s the tricky festive question posed in the classic New York story ‘Miracle on 34th Street’.

It’s one of the most enduring Christmas tales, made famous by the classic 1947 movie and – perhaps now even more well-known – the 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough.

Less well-known is the 1963 stage musical, and it’s this version that the Pitlochry Festival Theatre have turned to for their annual festive show.

Featuring a spectacular 
ever-changing Manhattan lightbox set and a wonderful lead performance by James Smillie, it’s a bright and cheerful show that never takes itself too seriously (amply demonstrated by a King Kong cameo).

The plot largely follows the film, with the suspiciously familiar Kris Kringle spreading chaos when he happens to be offered the role of Santa in the Big Apple’s largest toy shop. When he accidentally falls foul of the law there’s a court case which challenges the city’s natural cynicism.

Meanwhile, store manager and single mother Doris (Isla Carter) is bringing up her young daughter Susan (a scene stealing Kirsty MacLaren) in a world devoid of magic, wonder and men. It’s a situation Kringle and neighbour Fred Gaily (a suave Stuart Reid) seem destined to change.

All the ingredients are there for a perfect seasonal spectacular. The songs are toe-tapping, the costumes colourful and the performances uniformly excellent.

But it would have perhaps benefitted from an extra rewrite. A couple of the song set-pieces are downright creepy viewed with a modern eye, in particular the aggressive courtship of ‘Look Little Girl’.

More problematic still, the second act singularly fails to connect emotionally in the way the film did.

In place of the heartwarming celluloid denoument there is instead a colder, curiously rational conclusion – making it more of a quirky stocking filler than a long remembered Christmas gift.