Warm and satisfying, ‘Miracle on 34th St.’ hits holiday entertainment sweet spot

Susan Walker (Kaia Russell) doesn’t look like she’s ready to believe in Santa Claus (Hal Kerbes) just yet despite the best efforts of Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto). (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Susan Walker (Kaia Russell) doesn’t look like she’s ready to believe in Santa Claus (Hal Kerbes) just yet despite the best efforts of Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto). (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
Susan Walker (Julianna Toft) is decidedly unimpressed when Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto) suggests visiting the store’s Santa Claus (Hal Kerbes). (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Susan Walker (Julianna Toft) is decidedly unimpressed when Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto) suggests visiting the store’s Santa Claus (Hal Kerbes). (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
Kris Kringle (Hal Kerbes) welcomes Susan Walker (Kaia Russell) who has been urged by Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto) to take a chance and visit Santa Claus. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Kris Kringle (Hal Kerbes) welcomes Susan Walker (Kaia Russell) who has been urged by Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto) to take a chance and visit Santa Claus. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
Susan Walker (Julianna Toth) doesn’t look like she’s ready to believe in Santa Claus (Hal Kerbes) just yet despite the best efforts of Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto). (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Susan Walker (Julianna Toth) doesn’t look like she’s ready to believe in Santa Claus (Hal Kerbes) just yet despite the best efforts of Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto). (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
Susan (Julianna Toth) gives a pull on Santa’s beard as Fred looks on amused. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Susan (Julianna Toth) gives a pull on Santa’s beard as Fred looks on amused. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
Kris Kringle (Hal Kerbes) and Susan Walker (Kaia Russell) chat about make-believe. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Kris Kringle (Hal Kerbes) and Susan Walker (Kaia Russell) chat about make-believe. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
Kris Kringle (Hal Kerbes) explains to Susan Walker (Kaia Russell) and Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto) that he is Santa Claus. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Kris Kringle (Hal Kerbes) explains to Susan Walker (Kaia Russell) and Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto) that he is Santa Claus. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
Kris Kringle (Hal Kerbes) and Susan Walker (Julianna Toft) chat about make-believe. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Kris Kringle (Hal Kerbes) and Susan Walker (Julianna Toft) chat about make-believe. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
Kris Kringle (Hall Kerbes) talks to Susan Walker (Julianna Toft) about the world of make-believe. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Kris Kringle (Hall Kerbes) talks to Susan Walker (Julianna Toft) about the world of make-believe. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
Fred Gailey is played by Abraham Asto. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Fred Gailey is played by Abraham Asto. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
Michelle Morris plays pragmatic Doris Walker, who’s cool on the idea of Santa Claus. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Michelle Morris plays pragmatic Doris Walker, who’s cool on the idea of Santa Claus. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
Susan (Julianna Toth) runs happily towards the pretty house she’s hoped for. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Susan (Julianna Toth) runs happily towards the pretty house she’s hoped for. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
Susan Walker (Kaia Russell) tells her mom, Doris (Michelle Morris) and Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto) that Santa Claus gave them a new house. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Susan Walker (Kaia Russell) tells her mom, Doris (Michelle Morris) and Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto) that Santa Claus gave them a new house. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
‘This is the stick Kris Kringle carried,’ Fred (Abraham Asto) and Doris (Michelle Morris) realize. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)‘This is the stick Kris Kringle carried,’ Fred (Abraham Asto) and Doris (Michelle Morris) realize. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
It’s taken some time but Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto) and Doris Walker (Michelle Morris) realize their feelings have changed. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)It’s taken some time but Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto) and Doris Walker (Michelle Morris) realize their feelings have changed. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
It’s a Merry Christmas after all for Fred (Abraham Asto) and Doris (Michelle Morris) as they realize they’ve fallen in love. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)It’s a Merry Christmas after all for Fred (Abraham Asto) and Doris (Michelle Morris) as they realize they’ve fallen in love. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
It’s time for a group hug when Fred (Abraham Asto), Susan (Julianna Toft) and Doris (Michelle Morris) realize their dreams have come true. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)It’s time for a group hug when Fred (Abraham Asto), Susan (Julianna Toft) and Doris (Michelle Morris) realize their dreams have come true. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
Fred (Abraham Asto), Doris (Michelle Morris) and Susan (Julianna Toft) enjoy a group hug when they realize they are going to be a family with a house in the country. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Fred (Abraham Asto), Doris (Michelle Morris) and Susan (Julianna Toft) enjoy a group hug when they realize they are going to be a family with a house in the country. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)
Who can’t believe in Santa Claus with Kris Kringle (Hal Kerbes) around? Kerbes has played the red-suited fellow many times and enjoys it. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)Who can’t believe in Santa Claus with Kris Kringle (Hal Kerbes) around? Kerbes has played the red-suited fellow many times and enjoys it. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)

Chemainus Theatre Festival’s production of Miracle on 34th Street is as warm and comfortable as an old pair of slippers.

And so it should be: this timeless story of the triumph of imagination is a wonderful buffer against the incursion of Christmas carols before [Canadian] Thanksgiving, Boxing Week sales in the middle of summer, and all the other sad ways that the magic is being drained out of a special holiday.

This adaptation by Caleb Marshall, who was in the audience on opening night Nov. 15, has modernized some aspects of the play, and reduced a long story to a reasonable size for presentation at Chemainus. And all without sacrificing any of its enduring charm.

We still spend plenty of time with Kris Kringle (portrayed by Hal Kerbes), Susan Walker (Kaia Russell when we saw the show), and her mother Doris (Michelle Morris), the ever cheerful Fred Gailey (Abraham Asto), and all the crowd connected with Macy’s store during the pre-Christmas season.

The principal actors provide a strong foundation that keeps everyone focused on a story that requires many set changes. Kerbes is wonderful as Santa Claus, warm and quirky: a delight for his many fans.

Morris manages the tough job of keeping Doris from being just hard-boiled. We get to see that she’s been hurt and is protecting herself with a carefully built shell and a sharp pair of eyebrows. Asto, making his debut at Chemainus with this production, offers her an unquenchable Fred that she finds hard to resist. And Russell’s presentation of Susan was just right: the touch of acid that’s rubbed off from her mother not quite hiding the hopes of every child that there is really magic out there.

The other actors in this cast are quite a group of quick-change artists. From Brett Harris, who morphs from Macy’s clean-up man to a district attorney with adroit zest, to Jan Wood, who swings from being a trusted second in command to Doris at Macy’s to a superior court judge with aplomb, and Mallory James who can switch from a drunken old woman to a bright young stenographer in a flash, they all score big time on keeping this train on the track.

A special mention has to go to Tim Dixon and Matthew Hendrickson. They not only carry four or even five roles each, but are a delightful comedy duo as Macy and Gimbel. Watch for them.

Set designer Carolyn Rapanos and costume designer Michelle Lieffertz have combined to mount and dress this show appropriately but sparely so that the audience is entirely focused on the characters, who carry this heartwarming story to its expected but still very welcome conclusion.

Miracle on 34th Street runs until Dec. 29. Tickets will make great Christmas gifts. Call the box office at 1-800-565-7738 or visit chemainustheatre.ca online and book those seats now.



lexi.bainas@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Bernhardt’s freshly planted strawberries. (Mary Lowther photo)
Mary Lowther column: Hoping for a bumper crop of strawberries

Because our new plot gets a lot of sun, maybe strawberries won’t become consumed by wood bugs

Sarah Simpson
Sarah Simpson Column: Newton’s first law of motion

I could have sworn I told them to help each other get unbuckled and to come inside.

Commercial property owners in Duncan will have an opportunity to beef up their security in 2021 with matching grants from the municipality. (File photo)
City of Duncan to help commercial properties increase security

Municipality to set up matching grant opportunities

John and Jeri Wyatt hope the upcoming North Cowichan public hearing will move things along toward exclusion of the Chemainus River Campground from the Agricultural Land Reserve. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Input sought on Chemainus campground ALR exclusion at public hearing

Matter back on the agenda after a late reprieve in 2019 for Chemainus River Campground owners

Paper Excellence took over Catalyst Paper operations in B.C. in 2018. (Paper Excellence photo)
Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

Most Read