Miracles happen at Christmastime. And the magic of the season is rekindled for people of all ages to enjoy in one of the greatest Christmas stories ever told, Miracle on 34th Street, opening at the Chemainus Theatre Festival Friday, Nov. 15 and keeping the holiday spirit alive until Dec. 29.
The show needs almost no introduction because people have either seen the different versions of the movie or the play – or both – countless times. It’s been a longtime holiday classic that still stands the test of time.
“Why does this story matter now?” pondered director Kaitlin Williams. “That’s one of the questions I always ask when I set out to direct any play. With Miracle on 34th Street, I know there are a few answers.
“It is a beloved film, and many of you in the audience grew up watching it. We love such iconic, nostalgic movies. Seeing them performed on stage is irresistible.
“But apart from tradition and nostalgia, what is it that makes Miracle on 34th Street such an enduring story? I believe its power is summed up in Fred’s encouragement to Doris: “faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to. At its core, the play encourages us all to let our hearts take the lead, rather than our heads. We are asked to risk a bit more, to allow the child in all of us to believe in something irrational and to dream bigger than we thought possible. Stories like this are precious in a world that feels increasingly cynical and perilous.”
“This particular time of year can be a wonderful time to see the world through the eyes of a child, like Susan in this show,” added artistic director Mark DuMez. “Despite adults’ best efforts to force conformity, champion common sense or push consumerism, kids at this time often hope and see with different senses. They can remind those of us rushing around that love can be a simple moment, that faith lets us believe in things we may not be able to test or see, that hope makes waiting sweet and that joy wants to be shared as widely and wonderfully as we can.”
Williams is back to direct her second play at the theatre this year, following the funny and quirky production of The Foreigner during April and May. She also directed A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur in 2016.
“I love Chemainus,” said Williams, who’s based in Vancouver. “I went to UVic. My parents are both from the Island.”
She’s always glad to be back on the Island and honoured to be directing Miracle on 34th Street in Chemainus.
“I think the trick is to honour the classic, but do our own theatrical version of it,” Williams said.
“We’re not trying to make the film on stage. It’s important to me we capture what people love about the original film. We’re absolutely honouring the original.”
Williams’ own experiences have been more focused on another classic Christmas story.
“I’m more attached to It’s A Wonderful Life, to be honest,” she laughed.
“This one was a bit more information for me which served me since I came into it fresh. I’ve seen the film, I see why it’s so beloved. I know people have that attachment to it. We honour that in our work.”
Williams had high praise for the entire Chemainus Theatre Festival team.
“The Chemainus Theatre has an incredible hard-working team behind the scenes,” she enthused. “We’re very well-supported. That’s very important to acknowledge.”
Michelle Morris, who portrays Doris Walker, feels the same way.
“It’s a dream of mine coming back and working in Chemainus Theatre,” she said. “I knew about it when I was attending UVic.
“It’s one of the better contracts to get in terms of pay and opportunity and I think everybody coming here falls in love with the place.”
Claire Friedrich is the stage manager, Carolyn Rapanos the set designer, Michelle Lieffertz the costume designer, Michael Doherty the sound designer, Wendy Lundgren the lighting designer and Melissa Cameron the assistant stage manager.
Williams is thrilled with the cast that also includes two amazing young girls – Kaia Russell of Chemainus and Ladysmith’s own Julianna Toft – switching off in the role of Susan Walker.
“They’re very talented,” praised Williams. “They’ve been a pure joy and delight to work with.”
There’s no need to retell the Miracle story here that people know so well and will enjoy every moment as it plays out on stage. Suffice it to say it has to begin with the proper Kris Kringle and Hal Kerbes – even the staunchest critics would have to agree – is it.
Abraham Asto is the other main cast member in this Christmas hit as Fred Gailey. The multi-talented Jan Wood, Tim Dixon, Matthew Hendrickson, Brett Harris and Mallory James make up the rest of the cast by taking on several roles each.