A HOLIDAY HUG Koons and Fitzgerald. [Photo by Mark Turek]
You might be able to find a more amiable and Christmas-spirited entertainment than Miracle On 34th Street, the charming 1947 film with Maureen O’Hara and a precocious eight-year-old Natalie Wood. And that wouldn’t include the four film remakes that gave it a shot, because they didn’t have anything to add.
What can be added without detracting from the classic is music, as Meredith Willson realized, and he provided the book, music, and lyrics in his 1963 adaptation — titled Here’s Love, for some reason
Since then, it has been renamed Miracle On 34th Street The Musical, and Ocean State Theatre Company is staging it in a peppy production, directed and choreographed by Barbara Hartwig (through December 29), complete with orchestra and Christmas cheer.
It follows the film story closely, but with enough changed to make it a distinctly different experience and enjoyable in its own right. Some of the tweaks are incidental, such as Kris Kringle (Richard Koons) at the beginning correcting the placement of Santa’s reindeer on the cart of a balloon man rather than in a store window. Some alterations are clever improvements, such as revising the character of Mr. Shellhammer, but more about that later.
It starts out at the 1963 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, where Doris Walker (Megan Wheeler) is upset because the Santa Claus she hired is drunk. This also bothers Kris, so he accepts Doris’s offer of “two bucks an hour and all the cotton candy you can eat” to don the costume. He already has the white beard and sufficient rotundity.
Doris’s young daughter, Susan (Brigid Fitzgerald), is above such childish nonsense as enjoying parades and believing in Santa Claus, as she informs a man in uniform who chats with her. He is Fred Gaily (Jeffrey Funaro), freshly decommissioned from the Marines, soon to live in the apartment across from the Walkers, and romantically interested in the independent young mother. Doris has an appealing sense of humor, greeting her daughter when she returns home from work with “Hi, boss!,” to which Susan replies, “Hi, slave!” Their bond as two independent women offsets the cold calculation of a little girl being taught to disbelieve anything she “can’t see, smell, taste, or touch.”
There is an interesting aspect of frankness in this adaptation, when Doris matter-of-factly informs her daughter that this Fred fellow is “on the make.” Also far more honest than in the film is divorcee Doris’s attitude toward romance, despite her experience. She sings “You Don’t Know,” in which she admits to being “happy and proud when the man in your cloud/stops your heart with a wave and a grin,” even as she laments no longer hoping for a Prince Charming. Her song even depicts the darkness of “being locked in a nightmare,” which echoes too grimly for a musical when Fred initially comes across as predatory rather than romantic toward Doris.