It’s not high on most people’s favourite Christmas film list but Miracle on 34th Street is one of my absolute favourite Christmas films. So when I was asked to go and review the stage performance at Birmingham’s New Alexandra Theatre I jumped at the chance! Presented by The Birmingham and Midlands Operatic Society and directed by Suzi Rudd, the 1963 musical that Meredith Wilson was brought to life on the Birmingham Stage.
While there were great parts to the musical, it was hard not to compare it to the wonderful 1994 version of the film. The story is slightly different (closer to the 1944 version of the film) and I didn’t get the same heartwarming vibe from the story presented. In fact, some of it was a bit lost on me and didn’t feel relevant to the overall story goal.
There was a lack of detail in Susan’s journey from non-believer to a believer in Santa Claus and I became slightly irritated with the relationship between Doris and Fred. Maybe it was because of the different era in history but I couldn’t bear some of the language used; such as him referring to her as a Dame and his cocky nature about the fact she wanted him.
But on to things, the cast could control. They all looked like they were having a lot of fun up there and while there were a few timing issues, the cast moved beautifully around the stage, making full use of the space. Their rendition of ‘It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas’ had me joining in but I’ve got to admit the wandering spotlight was slightly frustrating.
The stars of the show were Willow Heath as Susan Walker and Jo Smith as Doris Walker. They shone in every scene they were in and for a moment, made you feel the Walker family’s pain and reliance on each other. I’d love to see Jo in something where she could really unleash her voice.
The set designs were incredible and it even snowed at the end so even if you weren’t feeling Christmasy by that point, you sure were after. The stage transitions were great and the orchestra filled the theatre with the sound of Christmas without putting a foot wrong. I know from experience that so much goes into producing a show on a stage such as this and I applaud BMOS for their effort. Even after everything, I certainly felt more Christmasy!
Photos: Ariane Photography