Here’s Love to Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical
Take a look at the 44 Best Musical Tony winners that have been adapted from other sources. Start in 1949, when Kiss Me, Kate won the first Best Musical prize.
Now let’s split those 62 years in half. In the first 31 years, 19 of the 23 adaptations that won – or 82.6% -- had brand-new titles. Only Kismet, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, Two Gentlemen of Verona and Sweeney Todd retained their sources’ original titles.
But in the next 31 years, only seven of the 21 winning adaptations – or 35% -- had titles that differed from their sources: Nine, Cats, Big River, Crazy for You, Passion, Rent and Monty Python’s Spamalot.
See a trend? At one time, stressing that a Broadway musical was something new was important; these days, stressing that a Broadway musical is something familiar is more important.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that the 1963 musical Here’s Love is now calling itself Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical. That’s what it will be named when Jacob Shoesmith-Fox produces and directs it for a benefit performance for the Actors Fund.
His company, Theatrical Gems, offers semi-staged productions. “The actors have books in hand,” he admits. “But there are props, simple sets, simple lighting and dance numbers in which the ensemble lets go of the books. Choreographer Brett Radek will create the Macy’s Parade, a dream ballet, and the former title number.”
Shoesmith-Fox has already produced and directed such other ‘60s also-rans as Mr. President and Wildcat. Both, to be frank, suffered from a woeful pianist. He mercifully won’t be on the scene this time. Here’s hoping that he’ll visit a surgeon who’ll separate his fingers that had apparently been fused together. After that, he needs to go to River City and get some much-needed extra lessons from Marian Paroo. Happily, the more accomplished Seth Bisen-Hersh will tickle the ivories for Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical.
And speaking of Marian Paroo, the man who created her – Meredith Willson -- also wrote the book, music and lyrics for what had been Here’s Love. It was, incidentally, not one of the Best Musical Tony winners to change its title, because Here’s Love didn’t even get a single Tony nomination. Thus, Shoesmith-Fox’s reading will primarily be of interest to those who want to see every Broadway musical and haven’t checked this one off their list yet.
What’s sad is that Willson didn’t realize the potential that Miracle on 34th Street offered. Take a look at the classic 1947 film, and you’ll see a song opportunity leap out every few minutes.
Start with Kris Kringle’s telling the clerk who’s decorating Macy’s window that he’s making mistakes when arranging the reindeer: “You’ve got Cupid where Blitzen should be! Dasher should be on my right hand side!” That’s a song – or it should be.
Willson did arrange to have a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade – remember his thing for marching bands? Parade-watchers excitedly witnessing “The Big Calown (yes, “calown”) Balloons” made for a terrific song. But a more apt one could have been written. After all, when Kris suddenly scores as a last-minute replacement for a drunken Santa, Doris Walker, the woman who hired him, and her associates should have sung that Kris is “The Best Santa Claus We’ve Ever Seen!” We could have also heard from Kris, who’d be glad to be on the centerpiece float, singing how happy he is that Christmastime is near.
Kris becomes friends with Macy’s low-level employee Albert, who plays Santa on occasion. He likes “when kids get that Christmas look,” as he says – but should have sung. Kris could have joined in, too.
Kris’ telling customers where toys that Macy’s doesn’t have can be found could have been another number, finished by mothers expressing their thanks. Mr. Macy could have sung and not just spoken about his emporium being “the helpful store, the friendly store, the store with a heart,” before admitting at the end, “and consequently we’ll make more profits than ever before.” Even Kris’ taking a mental competency test could have been a song, albeit sung by the enthusiastic person giving it. (Think Bat Boy’s “Show You a Thing or Two.”)
The greatest missed opportunity occurs after Susan, Doris’ brass-tacks 10-year-old, tells Kris how kids at school were pretending to be animals and she thought that very silly. Kris’ getting Susan and Fred, the lawyer who lives next door, to play animals and use imagination could have been a great production number. The words that Kris says in the film are almost lyrics in themselves: “How would you like to be able to make snowballs in the summertime? Or drive a great big bus down 5th Avenue? Or a ship all to yourself that takes daily trips to China and Australia? Be the Statute of Liberty in the morn and fly south in the afternoon with a flock of geese? You’ve got to learn to pretend.” (Aren’t those last six words our title?) Instead, the creative staff decided on that aforementioned dream ballet.
In the film, Susan shows Kris a picture of a suburban home. “That’s what I want for Christmas,” she says. “A backyard with a great big tree I can swing on.” That Willson didn’t musicalize Susan’s wish is surprising because the film offers background music here. That’s the biggest hint a songwriter can get to start setting dialogue to music. What’s more, Fred soon expresses that he wants a suburban home, too, so there’s your built-in second chorus.
If Susan had sung there, it should have been the first time in the show that she sang; up until this point, she would have been too repressed and unhappy to sing. For that matter, Doris, another jaded soul, shouldn’t sing at all until her Act Two transformation, too. Willson apparently didn’t see it that way, because he gave Susan and Doris the show’s second song, and Doris the third.
Willson dropped the musical ball again by not musicalizing Fred’s speech to Doris, that “faith is believing in things when commons sense tells you not to” – and that Kris “represents kindness, joy, love and other intangibles.” But what he did write for Here’s Love was good enough to get him a Top Forty album. (Okay: only number 38 for one week.) Its title song is loved by many musical theater enthusiasts and loathed by others. I’m in the former camp.
The song has Kris imagine that at Christmastime, even rivals can wish each other well. Thus, “Here’s love” from “CBS to NBC” and “from Cinderella to her sisters,” among plenty of others. When Kris hopes for only the best from “all the help to all the brass,” orchestrator Don Walker has the brass come in. Better still, when Norman Vincent Peale is mentioned, he has bells peal.
This song alone ensures that Shoesmith-Fox’s reading will keep the show in 1963, because the 48-year-old song has many dated references. Yes, one about Fidel Castro still holds lo these many decades later, but the Eisenhowers, Elizabeth Taylor, Nikita (Khrushchev, once premier of the Soviet Union) and JFK are no longer with us. In fact, only 50 days after Here’s Love opened, the lyric “JFK to U.S. Steel” had to be changed to “CIA to U.S. Steel” because of the assassination.
Also in the score is the hit song “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” although Willson didn’t write it for this show; he’d penned it as a pop song 12 years earlier. Today, inserting an old song into a new score is the norm rather than the exception. But in 1963, such an easy way out wasn’t taken. Willson at least ameliorated the situation by making the song one half of a quodlibet with a new song, “Pine Cones and Holly Berries.”
Shoesmith-Fox says he hasn’t added or cut any songs – even the notorious and sexist “She Hadda Go Back,” a long patter song in which Fred complains that a woman could take 15 minutes to leave her apartment just because she isn’t able to find her gloves. Needless to say, the film doesn’t contain this irrelevancy.
“But,” says Shoesmith-Fox, “the show does feature a few musical moments not included on the cast recording, including a song for store employee Marvin Shellhammer. There’s also a beautiful number where Doris realizes that she is ready to embrace the magic of Christmas.”
The reading stars Tony Yazbeck as Fred, Kimberly Faye Greenberg as Doris, Jim Brochu as Kris, Rachel Resheff as Susan and Brian Childers as Shellhammer. How nice of them all to give up their nights off. At the moment, Yazbeck is reprising his Broadway role in White Christmas at Paper Mill; Childers and Greenberg have been Danny and Sylvia for more than a year; Resheff is the current Jane Banks in Mary Poppins; Brochu is playing Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner. Says Brochu, “I am thrilled to be playing the world’s nicest man at 46th and 8th while playing the world’s naughtiest man at 46th and 9th.”
Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical plays on Monday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. at St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 W. 46th St., New York City. Tickets are $25 and can be reserved at firstname.lastname@example.org. –
— Peter Filichia