By David Dixon
As one Christmas tradition ends, another begins. For several years, San Diego Musical Theatre has presented the Irving Berlin musical, “White Christmas.” Following the performance on Dec. 4, the comedy won’t be returning to the Spreckels Theatre anytime soon.
The company hopes to have a similar, family-friendly success on its hands with the world premiere of “Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play.”
The narrative stays true to the 1947 movie. A friendly department store Santa, Kris Kringle (played by Normal Heights resident Jim Chovick) tells others that he is really Santa Claus. His claim leads to a Supreme Court case where he hopes to prove to the world that he actually is St. Nick.
Lance Arthur Smith’s script is the latest in a long line of great entertainment pieces inspired by the classic film. There have been several remakes as well as a musical called “Here’s Love” from “The Music Man” writer Meredith Wilson. Hillcrest resident and co-star Lise Hafso has her own opinions on why George Seaton’s motion picture continues to be celebrated.
“The plot is really powerful,” she said. “The theme about standing up for what you believe in is really important.”
As the title suggests, the adaptation at the Horton Grand Theatre is not a typical stage production. The eve is in the tradition of an old-fashioned radio show. Inspired by the 1947 Lux Radio Hour broadcast rendition, the night features fun props, sounds effects and other surprises for audiences.
Director Colleen Kollar Smith did not want the cast to listen to the radio event. Instead, she asked the ensemble members to create their own interpretations of the characters from scratch. “I’m not impersonating Edmund Gwenn,” Chovick said.
Hafso plays several characters ranging from a young boy to an elderly priest. “I’m using nine different voices,” she said. “It’s challenging trying to make them all sound different. During early table readings, I would close my eyes and try to imagine I was listening to the other stars on the radio. That helped me a little when it came to defining my character.”
For Chovick, a tough aspect about working on a radio play is the way he interacts with others. “We look out at the crowd a lot and don’t have many face-to-face conversations,” he said. “The presentation is very theatrical.”
The show features famous tunes and original songs from Midtown resident Jon Lorenz.
One particular musical number that has connected with Chovick is called “Miracles.”
“The lyrics discuss how miracles can be appreciated every day of the year,” he said. “That’s a very nice thought. There are also catchy tunes about Macy’s and Gimbels.”
What makes Kris’ journey satisfying for Chovick is the character development with the main family who form a connection with him.
“The characters are not what you expect,” he said. “Some of them, like Doris (Janaya Jones) and her daughter, Susan (Julia Van Skike), start off as rather unpleasant. They become extremely sympathetic, because the two of them change.”
Although radio plays rarely are performed at the Horton Grand, Hafso thinks audiences will be rewarded for attending.
An artist who has faith in the continuation of “Miracle on 34th Street” is Chovick.
“If you come this year, you’ll want to come every year,” he said.
—David Dixon has written reviews and features for various print and online publications. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.