This musical adaptation by Meredith Willson first took to Broadway in 1963. The original 1947 movie premise centres around a cynical single mother, Mrs Walker, and her daughter, Susan, whose disbelief in all things imaginative are shaken when Kris Kringle starts working as Macy’s Santa Claus.As Kringle’s conviction that he is the real Santa becomes apparent, concerns abound about his sanity, until eventually he is committed to an asylum pending a court hearing. Alongside this, Mrs Walker’s neighbour, who also happens to be a lawyer and a rather handsome single man named Fred, builds a friendship with Susan and begins to fall for her mother.
The climax takes place in the courtroom, where of course both the Christmas spirit and love prevail.Oddly in this adaptation, however, there were some strange plot tweaks that were a little hard to swallow. Fred is played as a rather obtuse bachelor who calls Mrs Walker ‘little girl’. And rather than wishing for a father and brother, and a house to live in, Susan wishes for Fred’s farmhouse in Connecticut with a cow and a swing. All put together it makes for a much more regressive and anti-feminist message than the original 40s tale presented, with no redeeming reason why.
That said, there was also a lot to enjoy about the performance. Genevieve Nicole, who plays Doris Walker, has a wonderful voice and was funny and engaging throughout. In fact, the cast were all wonderful singers, and the ensemble numbers were perfectly suited to their voices.The set design is fairly simple, which for the space made sense, although occasionally felt a little lacking in cosiness. This would not have mattered so much perhaps, except for one vital element: I didn’t find Kris Kringle convincing.
I very much believe in the spirit of Christmas, but sadly instead of inhabiting that embracing and jolly spirit, James Murphy played a slightly contrived, and rather dislikeable, old man. This may have been just me; the children in the audience certainly cheered when he reappeared in his red suit in the finale, but the final applause was not overwhelming.All in all, this is certainly a quality production, and I laughed out loud at times. But I went hoping for a big sparkly hug, and all I left with was a cordial Christmas handshake.