By Bill Wheeler of Theatre Colorado
Novel by Valentine Davies
Adapted by: Mountain Community Theater
Based on: Miracle on 34th Street, 20th Century Fox films (1947).
Running Time: 2 hours (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance: Sunday, December 7, 2014.
That’s the message that greets you when you go to the Spark Theater’s webpage, looking for tickets to Miracle on 34th Street (hereafter abbreviated as Miracle). That’s right; sold out. The entire run. If you want to see Miracle on 34th Street at the Spark but don’t yet have a ticket, you’ll need a minor miracle of your own.
That’s unfortunate; it’s an excellent production that I highly recommend. However, the Spark Theater is a very small (I estimate 30-40 seats) venue, so the capacity is very limited.
It’s a familiar story; the 1947 film
with Edmund Gwynn and Maureen O’Hara is a Christmas classic. For those who may have avoided the annual “Miracle
” festival, it’s about the guy Macy’s hired to play Santa Claus (here, a jolly and wise Wade Livingston as Kris Kringle). It turns out he actually believes he IS the man in the red suit with white fur trim. His sanity is questioned, and ultimately resolved in his favor.
Miracle is an enduring Christmas classic not just because it evokes all the right emotions for the season, although it does exactly that extremely well. It also provides a stark counterpoint to the overwhelming commercialism that has come to characterize our Christmas season. Whether you want a new toy, a new doll, or a new bicycle has little to do with the real spirit of Christmas. Christmas shouldn’t be about sales, but about being the best people we can be.
The “miracle,” if you will, of 34th Street, is that if you believe, you just might receive. If you don’t, you probably won’t. It is that recurring theme of having faith and trust in people, institutions and traditions that make Miracle a special script.
While the Spark Theater is one of the smallest venues in Denver, the company does not take a back seat to any of the larger facilities. They know how to use their tiny space to maximum effect, and for Miracle, Spark has put together a marvelous production of a much beloved script.
|Wade Livingston as Kris Kringle.
If anyone could make an audience believe in Santa Claus, his name is Wade Livingston. His Kris Kringle is approachable, logical, controlled, but also quietly defiant. He IS the man, and he doesn’t easily tolerate fools who doubt him. He has a twinkle in his eye as he promises to deliver Christmas wishes for those who believe. Livingston shines as Kris Kringle, bringing out the best in not just himself, but in all in his orbit.
Doris (Kaity Gray) and Fred (Matthew Davis) make a charming couple, working through the banter of friends becoming partners. Gray is convincingly stand offish; Davis is just as convincing as the secret admirer who fumbles his way into a great relationship. Cassie Kelso’s dual roles as Ms Shellhammer and the attorney who has to prosecute Santa Claus are challenging, but Kelso pulls them both off with gusto. Her time in court comes to an ignominious end as Kelso slinks off the stage in humiliation.
|Wade Livingston (Kris Kringle) and Kaity Gray (Doris) with the kids of Miracle.
Doris’ daughter Susan (Francesca Hiatt) sparkles as the not so innocent girl she seems to be. She wants a house and a dad, and she makes both happen, perhaps because she believes Santa can deliver on her request for both.
I am going to make a leap of faith here, and assume that the other Hiatts in the cast, mother Joi (Sharon’s mother), son Jerin (Johnny), and daughter Maria (Caroler) are all related as I’ve described. If so, Joi has a very talented family. Maria is the youngest (in kindergarten according to the program), and ideally suited to bring an innocence and a sense of wonder to the Spark stage. Maria hits all her marks, is as cute as they come, and she makes eye contact with everyone in the room.
In fact, it’s safe to say that the children in the cast are central in Miracle, and they are all charming, appealing, and focused on their roles. There’s not a weak character in the bunch (Francesca, Jerin, & Maria Hiatt, Paulina Eden Perez, Elle Marshall) which is a tribute to Lorraine Scott’s direction and to the dedication of these kids and their families.
This is a bare bones production in a tiny venue, but it speaks volumes about how theater magic can happen on a low budget. You will not see a better, more moving, more compelling Christmas performance this year. It will remind you of why we have faith (“Faith is believing something when common sense tells you not to”) at Christmas.
And if you don’t have “faith,” Miracle might be just the medicine you need.
Miracle on 34th Street is suitable for all ages.
There is free parking on surrounding streets. However, plan on walking the equivalent of at least one block unless you’re lucky enough to snag a spot on Santa Fe Drive near the theater.
This show closes on December 21, 2014.
Read the full review at http://theatercolorado.blogspot.com/2014/12/miracle-on-34th-street.html
Spark Theater: 9/6 – 9/27
You have only one weekend left to catch up with director Linda Suttle and her delightful mash-up of Agatha Christie and Noel Coward in Spark Theatre’s hilarious production of Rob Urbinati’s “Death by Design.”
The show begins as a playwright and his actress wife retreat to their home in Cookham after a hideous London opening night. Owen Niland and Michelle Grimes do a beautiful job inhabiting the roles of this constantly bickering couple with tongue firmly implanted in cheek. Shortly after their arrival at Cookham an odd assortment of guests arrives including a politician, a socialist, a myopic ingénue and a zany modern dancer. Of course they all have secrets that come out when Bridgit, the quirky Irish maid sets out to solve a dastardly crime. LuAnn Buckstein steals the show with her hysterically funny portrayal of Victoria, the eccentric dancer. Victoria is brought to vivid life by Ms. Buckstein’s inimitable virtuosity in the realm of physical comedy. As her character sinks further and further into an alcoholic stupor Buckstein’s physiology does everything from attaching itself barnacle-like to the back wall of the playing space to tying itself in knots as she attempts to seat herself in a drawing room chair . Buckstein is a genius of the comic variety and worth the price of admission all on her own.
Deborah Curtis is hilarious as the maid who turns into a sort of Miss Marple of the domestic variety. Such fine actors as Brad Wagner, Andrew Black, James Thompson and Kristen Mair take to the stage in the other wacky roles.
There are plenty of red herrings and false endings and the chuckling in Act One does become more an audience guffaw as the chaos begins to unravel itself in Act Two.
One must mention the costume design by Kati Oltyan. The choices of costumes and millinery for Ms. Grimes are delightful. Those for Ms. Buckstein are stupefyingly funny!
Review: “Shakespeare to the Death” dark, with moments of black comedy
* * * ½ stars (Out of 4)
The cast of Spark Theater’s “Shakespeare to the Death.” (Provided by Spark Theater)
Spark Theater’s muscular “Shakespeare to the Death,” unlike its predecessor, “Shakespeare to the Letter,” is dark, if not dead serious.
The gifted cast present famous (and not so famous) death scenes by tackling the material head-on. Don’t expect a reprise of “To the Letter,” which exploited the comic possibilities of the letters upon which so many Shakespearean plots revolve.
There are moments of black comedy, and a running gag involves updating a cumulative body count. But the excerpts from dramas stay true to the originals.
So the scene of Cordelia’s death in “King Lear” is raw with grief, as Randy Diamon finds the stricken father inside Lear’s majesty and madness. Desdemona’s death (“Othello”) disturbingly invokes domestic abuse.
There are flashes of grim humor in the death scene from “Romeo and Juliet” — not the famous one, but a sword fight between the Montague and Capulet gangs, dispatching unnamed extras.
Director Roger Winn, who also directed “To the Letter,” chose the death scenes for novelty, with a view to showcasing “some of the more creative ways the Bard disposed of some of his characters.”
That makes the pie scene from “Titus Andronicus” practically mandatory. “Titus,” a disaster of continuity, shines in the bizarre ways that characters are maimed or injured, with ajust-deserts scene that combines murder, cannibalism and vicious wit.
One exception to all this morbidity: The excerpt from “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Yes, there is a death (Pyramus) in that brief play-within-a-play dependably popular at the annual Denver Public Schools Shakespeare festival.
The Spark company totally nails it, interpreting the fumbling itinerate actors as scene-stealing buffoons, victims of stage fright, or bored drunkards. Doe-eyed Sidney Morss makes the most of her improbable part as the Wall that stands between lovers Thisbe (Sam Reiter) and Pyramus (Paul Backer).
All this takes place right at the knees of the front row. At one point, Gracen Porreca (whose repertoire of British accents is stellar) only needs to step back a foot to take an empty seat in the front row. (There are only about 30 seats, arranged in two narrow rows of 15 chairs.)
Taking advantage of this intimacy, director Winn offers audience members a chance to juggle the order of the death scenes by moving magnetized play titles on a board. I’m guessing that “Midsummer” or “Titus Andronicus” usually find their way to the bottom, leaving audiences with a chuckle instead of the despair that ends the “Lear” and “Hamlet” excerpts.
“Shakespeare to the Death” is lively enough to serve as date night fare, and substantial enough to please die-hard fans who’ll also appreciate the bawdy humor that insinuates itself into even inappropriate moments.
Claire Martin: 303-954-1477, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/byclairemartin
SHAKESPEARE TO THE DEATH | 3.5 stars Scenes from nine Shakespeare plays, directed by Roger Winn. Featuring Paul Backer, Randy Diamon, Aaron Lede, Sidney Morss, Anne Myers, Gracen Porreca, Krista Rayne Reckner, Sam Reiter, Charis Beth Swartley and Melissa Valdez.
Reviews for Three Sisters
Called an “instant classic” and “breathtaking” Three Sisters received glowing reviews by David Marlo, BroadwayWorld, and 2 Henry Award Nominations!
Reviews for Dangerous Liaisons!
Great notices from David Marlowe – Out Front Colorado. Dangerous Liaisons Is a Bold Yet Intimate Evening according to He Said/She Said This staging enhances the intimacy of the play, and subtly pushes the audience toward an interesting sort of voyeurism. There is the obvious voyeurism of watching a sexually-charged story that features nudity, but there is a more complex voyeurism of seeing difficult things, but not being able to look away because it is right there – you feel a part of the scene. said Craig Williamson – North Denver Tribune And Michael Mulhern – BroadwayWorld.com said it was full of Sex, drugs, deceit…and delicious dialogue!
Plus the Dangerous Liaisons cast sat down with Eden Lane on InFocus. Watch it here!
Plus additional features about Spark Theater and the Denver Theater Scene
When Did Live Theater Get So Small?
In Colorado, an unexpected arts building boom
SparkStudio: Theater is back on Broadway
Meet Denver’s New Spark Theater
For press inquiries, please contact: SparkTheater@SparkTheater.org