Dallas — You’ll be glad to know that Santa is alive and perfectly in charge of the upcoming holiday! Dallas Children’s Theater has seen to that with its playful and lavish production of Miracle on 34th Street, written by Valentine Davies and based on the classic movie and book about the Macy’s Santa who thinks he’s the real deal. So what’s wrong with that?
Well, for starters, he has to convince Doris Walker (elegant actress and sensational singer Janelle Lutz), the determined realist and divorced PR manager who hired him that he’s not a bumbling lunatic. Doris’s daughter Susan (a skeptical Alexis Nicole Hawkins, played alternately by Elizabeth Rose Jiede) is as doubtful as her mom about such “childish myths” because her mother wants to prepare her for the hard knocks of the real world.
Somehow Kris Kringle (a kindly, bright-eyed Francis Fuselier sporting a beautiful real white beard) has to persuade these doubting dames that he’s not just an annual hire brought in to pump toy sales, but a living, breathing, wish-granting, gift-giving wise man who speaks elf-ese, lives at the North Pole and has a way with reindeer and greedy retailers. In his kindly way with children, and his unflinching clarity about his identity, Fuselier convinces from the moment he applies for the job, until the grand finale, atop one of the many stunning sets designed by Bob Lavallee.
The real miracle of this production, directed with wit and humor by Robyn Flatt, is in the large cast of children working with first-rate professional actors to deliver a show with warmth, zing and so much real-kid merriment you want to join in the fun. Alternating casts of 19 elves dressed in Lyle Huchton’s bright lime-green and red costumers, trimmed in gold are on hand to help stock shelves and assist Santa in his gift selection. Sometimes they even pop up amusingly in court, when Kris is hauled in for a sanity hearing.
The elves aren’t just Santa’s helpers. They also form the supporting choir for the show. Under the musical direction of Adam C. Wright, the company sings upbeat holiday songs, integrated into the script, as the familiar story of faith overcoming doubt unfolds. Master elves Rachel Clo and Shannon Walsh guide the children as they march through the aisles singing “Santa Klaus is Coming to Town,” “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” the hit song from Meredith Willson’s musical version of the movie.
The growing attraction between Doris and her lawyer neighbor Fred Gayley (a handsome, sweetly earnest Ricco Fajardo) is heightened in this production with a delightful duet and dance to “A Christmas Waltz,” infusing the moment with a tender romantic vibe. Santa definitely knows what he’s doing!
Paul Taylor ramps up the comic energy of the show as Sawyer, the hissing, mean-hearted neurotic store counselor trying to prove that Kris is nuts—and looking hilariously distraught when he fails.
Calvin Scott Roberts is solidly believable as Dr. Pierce, the medical doctor who loves Kris and wants to help him, but wrestles with his patient’s conviction that he’s really what his name states he is.
K. Doug Miller is a comically frustrated store manager, yelling at Kris for not pushing last year’s leftovers to the kiddies coming to see him. Francis Henry and Karl Schaeffer, as Mr. Macy and Mr. Bloomingdale, are funny in their out-good willing each other, as they up Chris’ bonus check to cover the cost of a new X-ray machine for the hospital. Such largesse goes a long way in proving who’s got the real spirit! Right?
You can check out Santa for yourself in his green velvet chair in the lobby after the show, where all the elves and young audiences members line up for a photo and a chance to deliver a special letter to this very special fellow.