Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Review: Miracle on 34th Street (UK Tour) at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Miracle on 34th Street (UK Tour) 
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
Reviewed on Tuesday 4th November 2014

I seem to be one of the few people never to have seen the original 1947 film version of Miracle on 34th Street, or any of its subsequent remakes. Despite the beginning of November being a little too early to be seeing a Christmas show, I was looking forward to getting into the festive spirit and discovering a Christmas classic for the very first time. 

I have no idea how Meredith Willson's 1957 musical won a Tony Award for Best Musical. The book is an absolute mess and the music is dreary, the piece drags and lacks magic. Is Santa real? Has Susan Walker really met the real Santa? Quite frankly by the time the storyline established itself I couldn't have cared less, one of the stage show's biggest problems is that it lacks heart. 

This touring production uses the most awful backing tracks which either drown out the cast or disappear into the background, leaving the stage feeling dead and severely lacking in atmosphere during dance numbers. To make matters worse, last night the sound was horrific with microphones cutting in and out throughout the performance; the levels were horrendous.

The minimalistic set is cheap and far from cheerful which also doesn't help with the awkward onstage atmosphere. At one point during the first half confetti is shot out over the audience (I feared a confetti-ball was about to take out a poor old lady) and later on pyrotechnics are used which couldn't have looked more out of place. The falling snow during the finale is a beautiful touch, particularly when it falls over the audience after the bows. 

I have huge admiration for the cast who give their all and try their best. Despite the occasional strained note or accent slip, their energy cannot be faulted. Unfortunately casting young adults as both parents and children adds to the amateurish vibe. The audience were not at all responsive, with jokes sometimes receiving absolutely no laughter and songs receiving little applause. I went through a wide range of human emotions; from deep despair to shock. Thankfully I was eventually able to chuckle, but for all the wrong reasons. 

I cannot get over how bizarre Miracle on 34th Street is. From dancing cookies to naked Indians, I wondered what world I had stumbled into. Just as I was beginning to lose the will to live during the dull courtroom scene, a religious subtext is brought to light which seemed to come out of nowhere! I believe this theme is more prominent in the movie. 

It would be easy for me to write off Miracle on 34th Street as a bit of harmless fun; however, my biggest fear is that if someone who rarely goes to the theatre watches it they will be put off buying theatre tickets for months, or maybe even years. 2014 has been such an incredible year for touring theatre; the overall standard has been heavenly, with tours such as Wicked, Top Hat and Singin' In The Rain bringing the West End to people's doorsteps. Miracle on 34th Street, which also toured the UK last year, is an embarrassing step backwards.

Perhaps with higher production values, age appropriate casting, new staging and design plus a new book and score, Miracle on 34th Street could become the perfect festive treat. It is hardly a surprise that this 1957 Broadway musical didn’t make its UK premiere until 2013.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Miracle on 34th Street runs at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre until Wednesday 5th November and tours the UK until Saturday 6th December 2014.

Photo Credit: Darren Bell

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