As jazz versions of Christmas Carols are played while the audience enters the Bridge House Theatre, Miracle On 34th Street sets us up for a truly festive affair. This version of the well-known Christmas story is performed with a twist, as it has been adapted by Lance Arthur Smith from the 1947 Lux Radio Broadcast, which means that the affair is led by a radio host, and the actors are introduced before the story gets going. Even in the preamble, we are in 1947, which completely turns the radio play set up on it’s head. Rather, it is a musical extravaganza which pays tribute to the art of radio plays.
The responsibility of timing, both comedic and live sound wise, is so important in this production, and is done with ease and the sort of poise you would expect if you were to be an audience member in 1947. Directed by Guy Retallack, Jamie Ross, as the Announcer/Director of Music is given the task of creating the sound effects and atmosphere, whilst the rest of the cast have their main characters, and also multirole, which adds to this humorous production ever so well. Two microphones form the focus points for the audience, as almost all of the action is directed out towards us, as there is no use for the fourth wall in a radio broadcast for those who would be listening at home. Unlike radio plays however, these actors are all off book, which adds a delightful energy to the evening, and really helps them focus on that stylistic 1940s vernacular. Amy Reitsma’s beautiful voice magically glides through each song, and her ability to create varying characters just through her voice is remarkably entertaining. The whole cast do this piece justice, and Richard Albrecht’s Kris Kringle will warm the cockles of your heart.
The energy and style of the songs (Jon Lorenz) are reminiscent of Guys and Dolls, elaborate harmonies and catchy tunes abound. The theatre itself, under Fiona Martin’s design, is strewn with Christmas decorations made from paper, cardboard and there is even a Christmas tree, with touches to suggest that we are in a radio studio, such as an ‘on air’ sign over the entrance door. The wall of the end on stage is pasted with an art deco IBC logo, as is the piano area, which also contains all of the props for the sound effects. The performers are decked out in clothes, hair and make-up from the time, and hats and glasses are used to show different characters.
The fact that it is a bare bones production means that the actors’ talents really shine through in this jovial and sweet experience. If you are searching for a festive evening with as much heart and soul as a west end production, Miracle On 34th Street is a must-see.
Miracle On 34th Street is playing Bridge House Theatre until the 23rd December 2017. For more information and tickets, see www.bhtheatre.com.