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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Santa lives! in ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ in De Pere

Critic At Large

The Green Room Players

Programs in theatrical lighting under a little Christmas tree in The Green Room Lounge. (Warren Gerds)

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV)

With radio plays, an audience listening on radio doesn’t see the players.

With a staged version of a radio play, the audience sees the players.

Doggonest thing with “Miracle on 34th Street” by The Green Room Players – the audience can see that the actor playing Kris Kringle has, for real, white whiskers and head hair like a Santa Claus. He often wears a Santa hat, too.

There’s a line in the play to a girl who does not believe in Santa Claus as she gazes on his beard: “Go ahead and pull it,” Kris Kringle says.

She tentatively tugs. The beard is his. He beams. The audience chuckles.

What’s more, the man portraying Kris Kringle speaks in a kindly, thoughtful and caring manner like one imagines a Santa would.

And, when his turn comes to stand up from his chair to act in a scene, this Kris Kringle tends to smile like, “This is going to be fun.”

Kris Kringle is very much the heart of this show.

What is happening is part of The Green Room Players’ tradition of putting on a Christmas radio play (no set, no props, minimal costuming) followed by a sing-along.

The background on “Miracle on 34th Street” is fascinating. The movie version was released in 1947. Already by 1948, it was transformed into a radio play for the national airwaves. In the real introduction from back then, “Miracle on 34th Street” is called a “new classic.” People liked it a lot then… and to this day.

The Green Room Players’ rendition finds the players holding scripts and interacting and emoting and reacting with body English as if doing a regular play. Some actors not in a scene even react to what’s happening in the story or if their character is mentioned.

The story: Macy’s department store in New York City has hired an old gent to be its Santa for the kiddies for the Christmas season. The old gent’s name is Kris Kringle; it says so on his job application, along with his birthplace: North Pole. When children ask for a present that Macy’s doesn’t have, Kris Kringle sends the parents to a store that has. Push comes to shove quickly over the old gent’s sanity and whether it can be proved that he is who he says he is. Importantly, woven in is a love story about a single mother, her fact-minded daughter and their nice-guy neighbor who happens to be an attorney.

Radio plays were made to fit an hour – actually, a bit less to fit in some commercials, which are in this production, too. One commercial is a pitch for the sponsor’s product, Lux soap, which is amazingly tied in to be a companion for keeping clean sheer stockings given as a Christmas gift. Another commercial includes bored characters looking for stuff to do… with The Green Room Lounge happening to be their perfect destination.

Most everybody in the experienced cast directed by Gary Radke plays multiple roles, changing voices and body language with the shifts.

In the love story, Carrie Platten Liebhauser portrays the mother (Doris Walker) who is dampened by divorce; Nancy Geneva portrays the daughter (Susan Walker) who at first goes along with her mother’s dispirited take on life; and Ian Wisneski portrays the idealistic neighbor guy/attorney (Fred Gailey) and dresses the part in suit and tie.

In the store, Gary Radke is a manager (Mr. Shellhammer) who along with Doris Walker rides Kris Kringle’s rocky sleigh-ride situations to the disapproval/approval of Mr. Macy (Scott Roemaat), carefully espied by Mr. Gimble (Gary Radke).

In the mental-state story, Tom Harter portrays the reality-mined prosecuting attorney (Thomas Mara) whose wife (Melissa Ott) complicates his case, Mike Eserkaln portrays the mean psychiatrist (Mr. Sawyer) and Lee Kerwin portrays Judge Harper, who is caught between re-election and breaking the hearts of countless children.

In scenes and around scene changes, Maggie Dernehl and Patricia Jagodinsky are busy adding sounds – crinkling newspapers; creating footsteps, door knocks, door slams; adding little musical bits and so on… like in plays heard on radio.

As Kris Kringle, Phil Gospodarek is clearly having a ball. He is playing a beloved character, after all, and his appearance and glee take the role beyond the bounds of a radio play heard on the air.

***

Creative: Lance Arthur Smith adaptation based on the popular 1947 movie as presented in 1948 by Lux Radio Theatre; director – Gary Radke; sound effects – Maggie Dernehl, Patricia Jagodinsky; sound/lights – Nik Corsten

Cast (in order of appearance):

Announcer, Mortimer’s Mom – Jennifer Pettit

Mr. Shellhammer, Mr. Gimbel, Tommy Mara Jr. – Gary Radke

Doris Walker – Carrie Platten Liebhauser

Fred Gailey – Ian Wisneski

Susan Walker, Girl’s Mom – Nancy Geneva

Alfred, Dr. Pierce, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Mara

Kris Kringle – Phil Gospodarek

Mortimer, Mr. Macy, Mr. Halloran – Scott Roemaat

Girl, Ms. Pall, Nurse, Mrs. Mara, Louise – Melissa Ott

Mr. Sawyer, Postman – Mike Eserkaln

Judge Harper – Lee Kerwin

Running time: 65 minutes

Remaining performance: 7 p.m. Dec. 11

Info: thegreenroomonline.com

***

THE VENUE: The Green Room Lounge is located at 365 Main Ave. The building is part of a historic district in De Pere. The performance area for ComedyCity and this show is in the north part of the address. The space has an urban loft feel – a bare brick wall to the east, greenish painted wall to the west, a rough-wood wall to the south with panels angled at 45 degrees, and with exposed ventilation pipes and open wood ceiling above. Seating on chairs – stand-alone or at tables (like sturdy barrel bottoms) – is flexible and for approximately 75 for “Miracle on 34th Street.” The stage is raised a foot or so and tidily placed in the southeast corner.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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