By John Horan Jr. -- firstname.lastname@example.org
MIDDLETOWN -- Waiting in the wings each Christmas season is a familiar trio of entertainment offerings: Dickens' venerable "A Christmas Carol"; Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story," with Ralphie yearning for an air rifle; and "Miracle on 34th Street," the 1947 film about Macy's real-life Santa.
To that evergreen canon Wayside Theatre contributes its own worthy addition, a musical version of "Miracle on 34th Street," adapted by Warner Crocker, the theater's artistic director, and Steve Przybylski, its music director.
The show, which premiered Sunday, is a sprightly, appealing treat that touches all the right emotional chords. Deftly crafted by Crocker, who also directs, the musical features a large, polished cast. Przybylski supplies a tuneful score that ranges from the poignant to the exuberant.
The story, as almost everyone knows, ponders the hoary matter of Santa Claus' existence. The one Macy's hires appears to be the real McCoy. His name is Kriss Kringle and he has the uncanny ability to divine names and gift wishes and the unorthodox habit of sending customers elsewhere for bargains. The controversy winds up in a courtroom -- this is the United States, after all -- but "Miracle" wrestles with and ultimately validates the noncommercial "real meaning of Christmas."
Although most of the characters represent stock viewpoints, they also possess a degree of depth that makes them credible. The opening night cast -- a second troupe appears at some performances -- gleefully emphasized distinctive, endearing quirks.
James Fleming is the ideal Kriss Kringle, charming, equable, tolerant of fools and, of course, omniscient.
Logan Trask is appealing as the child who wants to believe in Santa despite the cold-eyed realism of her mother, the stalwart Thomasin Savaiano. David Maga is engaging as the idealistic lawyer with more on his mind than winning a court case.
Richard Follett enlivens his R.H. Macy with signature comic touches and Cody Murphy, as the officious store psychologist, is a delightful villain. Ricky Hesson is the dogmatic prosecutor, Matthew Baldoni the harried toy department manager, Esther Covington Macy's ditsy secretary and R. Jayson Belew the street-smart bailiff.
Til Turner supplies a spacious, festive set, festooned with gift boxes, which features revolving platforms that turn the department store into a courtroom and a surprise denouement. Tamara M. Carruthers and Catherine Lovejoy contribute a wealth of attractive, often amusing costumes. The effective lighting is by Paul M. Callahan.
"Miracle on 34th Street" continues through Dec. 27. The box office phone number is 869-1776.