Miracle on 34th Street (Theatre Royal, Brighton)

I went along to Brighton to see the stage musical Miracle on 34th Street and came out believing in Father Christmas.  I have always been a bit sceptical about Father Christmas ever since I saw mummy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe one Christmas, but I can honestly say my faith has been well and truly restored by this brilliant musical.

It is the best thing I have ever seen at Brighton’s Theatre Royal. In fact it may well be the best thing I have ever seen since the Upper Bogthorpe Players did A Midsummer Night’s Dream on ice. And the great thing about this show was that there were no grazed shins or any need to call an ambulance, which just goes to show how professional everyone was.

Meredith Willson wrote this musical. He also wrote The Music Man, which starred Robert Preston as Harold Hill, which is in north-east London. As I was typing I very nearly made a mistake and typed Robert Powell, who played Jesus on TV, but he wasn’t in this musical, though I did seem him playing Agatha Christie’s Poirot earlier this year. Willson also wrote another musical which was something to do with Debbie Reynolds escaping the Titanic.

Most people will know the story of Miracle on 34th Street from the 1947 or 1994 films which both starred wildlife legend David Attenborough and close family friends will remember I performed my own version of the story with teddy bears and kittens a few years ago in my garage.

The story is all about a man with a big beard – though it isn’t Alfie Boe on this occasion – who says he is Father Christmas. As it happens his name is Chris Cringle, which is a Manx name, so perhaps he is really from the Isle of Man. But there are lots of fairies over there, some of which I have seen personally, so it all adds up.  

The great thing about this musical was that while it looked very cheap and nasty, a few big bangs, and lots of confetti and snow showered over an enthusiastic audience, made it really exciting. We don’t have enough confetti and snow in shows these days – I found myself thinking how different Black Coffee, Mother Courage or Troilus and Cressida might have been had there been cannons firing confetti out into the audience. The last time I saw anything even remotely similar was in a spectacular called Slave’s Snowshoe, which was about Russians being taken into slavery and forced to wear winter footwear while working in the saltmines.

Director Paul Taylor-Mills has done all he possibly can to whip the company into a Yuletide frenzy and they certainly make the season bright, as the song says. Many of the cast were playing more than one part – at least I think they were, though it got a bit confusing as they all spoke in American accents and wore sweaters and scarves.  

The music was loud and ear-splitting which was just the way I like it as it means you can sing along to all the songs. There must have been a 50-piece orchestra hidden away backstage as the music sounded so authentic, though goodness knows where they all were as they weren’t in the orchestra pit. I know that for sure because I had a look at the interval and there was only one man and a CD player and he told me to bugger off back to Rottingdean or wherever it was I came from. I don’t live there actually, but it made me laugh.

James Murphy played Father Christmas. Wow, he was convincing. In fact I went backstage afterwards and spent a happy three hours discussing my Christmas list with him and he seemed really interested and kept nodding as I gave him my wishlist, so I think he might actually have been the real Santa. Ceris Hine also shone as a “6 going on 35” Susan – I last saw her as Columbia in The Rocky Horror Show so half expected her to whip off her costume and reveal fishnets but she didn’t.

The audience also seemed to enjoy this musical entertainment. I lost count of how many people got up and went out, obviously overcome with emotion, and judging by the comments I overheard I think several must have got so excited they had to go to the toilet.

It was definitely beginning to look a lot like Christmas with this show and that’s also one of the songs performed in it, though I think all things considered I prefer the Perry Como version, but then again his Christmas albums are among my seasonal favourites and they are on my turntable the moment December 1st comes along every year.

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