The first look at the set piece used for the opening scene of Miracle on 34th Street by Theatre Sarnia at the Imperial Theatre last Friday (Nov. 23) established clearly that the piece was set in the 1940’s or possibly, the late 1930’s. If that wasn’t enough, the wardrobe, hair styles, and props (signs and other decor) have unmistakeable stylings that define the era.
That’s a nod to the work of many people. Brian Austin Jr., Andrea Matthews and Bryanne Wood designed the sets while Cindy Dubois and Linda McLeish added the props. Drew Caldwell, with assistance from Lynn and Mary Cogswell, added finishing touches with the decor.
Wardrobe head Anthony Fracalanza and his team crafted the characters’ costumes while Makeup artists Zoe Little and Sydney Matthews dressed up their features. Barb St. Pierre headed a large group whose job it was to supply hair styles (or wigs) that fit the period. Andrea Matthews and her stage management team kept the changes flowing smoothly and the work by the ensembles was strong. The lighting, designed by Jennifer Caddock, was always slightly on the dark side, creating a sense of the production being done in black and white even though everything the audience saw was in full colour. It was like looking at an old film. Hats should be off to everyone who was involved in creating that accomplishment.
Two people whose work really shone in this production were newcomers. Erin Thomas seemed completely at ease in the part of ‘Dr. Pierce’. Her dialogue flowed effortlessly and her timing was excellent. Dallas Babb, who was just cutting her teeth on the stage as well, stole every scene she was part of. As the venomous (and pathologically disturbed booby) ‘Dr. Sawyer’ she was called on to be over the top and she did it with panache. It’s not often scenery gets chewed like that (and even less frequently that it works out so well) but she was a delight. Hopefully this is just the beginning of things to come from this pair.
Shauna Nelles depicted ‘Doris Walker’ as a woman whose submerged warmth flowered beautifully. The same was true of the passionate conviction within Craig Matthews portrayal of ‘Fred Gayley’. Watching that character come into his own was pure pleasure. Carly Allen allowed ’Shellhammer’ to serve as a foil for other characters to play off of. Ralph D’Allesandro and Jay Peckham balanced each other nicely as the flamboyant ‘Halloran’ and the more conservative ‘Judge Harper’. Brittany Jenkins was in great form as ‘Mara’, the prosecutor stuck in the unenviable position of trying to throw Santa in the booby hatch. She came through fabulously well when her mic shorted out. There was no panic, just one line that was inaudible before she raised her voice to project without seeming to yell.
Much of the warmth of the characters was generated by the children and from the players in the smaller roles. Joe Agocs showed a ‘Macy’ who was astute in business but not blind to the message of the season. He and Ron Pask had fun together when ‘Macy’ and ‘Bloomingdale’ (sort of) worked together. Olivia Moscone and Ava Droulliard provided genuinely touching moments as ’Susan Walker’ and ‘Janet Mara’, the children caught up in the events. David Engleson was nicely understated as ‘Kris Kringle’. Initially, almost too benevolent to be true, his frustration at the lack of willingness in others to believe who he was crafted the persona of a very real man who demonstrates that living by kindness and seeing hope where little seems to exist is a choice.
That’s the message of this story and it’s one that Director Jane Janes and her team conveyed well. She got strong performances from her people and used them to tell the story with the background serving as a frame for the events. There were a few blips in the sound, but those happen at times and will undoubtedly be corrected.
It was the first night of what’s going to be a good run. The standing ovation at the finish attests to that.
The production runs through to Dec. 1.