‘Miracle on 34th Street” first hit American movie screens in 1947, starring 8-year-old Natalie Wood in one of her earliest featured roles. Since the film’s initial release, generations of families have made it a holiday tradition to watch the story of a young girl who wonders whether a department store Kris Kringle could be the bona fide Santa Claus.
Taos Onstage’s annual dinner theater is on its way to becoming a holiday tradition of its own. This year, the community theater troupe has chosen to adapt “Miracle on 34th Street” for its staged radio-play offering. The play will be performed as a dinner theater offering Wednesday (Dec. 13), at Taos Mesa Brewing, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west. Dinner is at 6 p.m., show is at 7 p.m.
The story unfolds in New York City, in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. A man named Kris Kringle is hired to portray Santa Claus at the famous Macy’s department store and calmly claims to actually be Santa himself. The store’s in-house psychologist has him institutionalized and Kringle must go to court to prove his identity.
Taos Onstage Board President Charlotte Keefe is directing the show. “This is our fifth year to do a holiday radio play at Taos Mesa Brewing,” Keefe said. “The play was chosen because it is a well-loved movie that most people are familiar with. It is a story meant to help us give ourselves permission to believe in something, or someone, when common sense tells us not to.”
Keefe began pre-production with an old Lux Radio Theater adaptation of the movie. “From there, I added a few new segments. I also added well-known commercial jingles that were around during the 1940s. The singing commercials will be a big hit with the audience. As always, Rick De Stefano will add the wonderful musical bridges and transitions. We have a very talented cast. It is always fun to see how the actors can make the audience feel like they are listening to an ‘old-time’ radio show.”
Triana Reid plays Susan Walker, the Natalie Wood role. Reid was born and raised in Taos and studied acting at the New Mexico School for the Arts in Santa Fe. “I am having a wonderful time,” Reid said. “The cast and director are all very encouraging, and I feel very comfortable in my role. This is the first time I have done a radio show, so the fact that I’m not facing the other actors while I speak is a bit of a challenge.”
Mikala Martínez plays Doris Walker, Susan’s mother. “The role of Doris is a relatable one for many women,” Martínez said. “Raising a young daughter alone in the 1940s, after a rough divorce, is what motivates Doris to keep ideas like Santa Claus far from her daughter’s childhood. She comes off as severe, but I think it’s an understandable character trait, given her own disillusioned experience with fantasy versus reality.”
Writer, actor and educator David Pérez will be stepping into the iconic red suit as Kris Kringle. “I’m looking forward to seeing if people recognize me,” he said. “And just having a great time, lifting the spirits of the audience. Acting in this show has been lots of fun, with a great cast and director. I love the live-radio play format.”
Other actors in the ensemble are each taking on numerous roles, including made-up characters who work in various capacities in the fictional radio station, in addition to characters in the “play within a play.”
Patrick McMurray plays “Mr. Macy’s” chief competitor, “Mr. Gimbel,” among other roles. McMurray recalled that he first tried his hand at acting in the 11th grade, in a production of Studs Terkel’s “Working.” He liked it so much that he quit the swim team in order to act, sing and dance.
“I have been immensely enjoying the rehearsals with my theater colleagues,” McMurray said. “I learn a little bit more about my characters in each rehearsal. I found that I can do some voices, which is thrilling to me. The show itself means a lot to me, just in being able to be a part of such a fun and talented group of people. We get to relive a snippet of an interesting and very different time.”
Taos Onstage veteran Mary Walker is taking on at least seven roles. “I just want to say how much fun playing so many parts is!” she said. “Coming up with different characters to match the voices, and getting to sing old commercials, has just been a blast. I really wanted to be in this production because I love Christmas.”
Actor Blair Jackson named “Miracle” as one of his all-time favorite holiday movies. “When I heard that Taos Onstage was producing it as a radio play, I jumped at the chance to be involved,” he said. “I’m having a lot of fun, because I get to play six different roles — ranging from a little boy, to the head of Macy’s department store. It’s been quite a challenge for me as an actor to come up with distinctive voices and accents for each character. I’m looking forward to giving the audience a joyful and heartwarming experience for the holidays.”
Dianne Davis was a founding member of Taos Onstage and has been involved, in either the cast or crew, with every show the group has done. “I feel privileged to be the Foley artist for the show,” she said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Adding sound effects to the production really helps bring it to life for the audience. Now I get to be noisy on purpose! I have to make sure the right sounds happen at the right time – telephones ringing, doors closing, gavels banging, and mail sacks dropping.”
Taos music legend Rick De Stefano is the show’s musical director, as well as playing the onstage role of a piano player. “It beats playing a lawyer,” he quipped. “I am such a good actor, you will swear I am actually playing the piano.” De Stefano improvised the music in the production as a combination of “silent movie pianist and TV soap opera organist.” He will be serenading the diners with holiday music.
Nick Boeder and Judy Kasper round out the ensemble cast.
Those who choose to pre-purchase dinner as well as the show will enjoy a traditional holiday menu of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, vegetables and dessert, served buffet-style. A vegetarian option will also be available. Tickets are $30 for the dinner and play, $15 for the play only. Reservations required. Dinner is reserved seating. Please call in advance if you wish to reserve seats together as a group, call (575) 224-4587 or visit taosonstage.com.