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Riley Center to host stage adaptation of ‘Miracle’ Saturday

December 9, 2011

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

In the original 1947 “Miracle on 34th Street” film, there is a scene where a Dutch orphan girl approaches Kris Kringle, a department store Santa who claims to be the real Santa Claus.
Her caretaker tells Kris she does not speak English and has not spoken to anyone since she came to America. Kris then begins speaking Dutch to her. The girl lights up; she is convinced she has found the real Santa, and together, they begin to sing a song about Santa in Dutch.
This weekend in Meridian, audiences can see that moment transformed into a full-blown musical number.
The Mississippi State University Riley Center will host a stage adaptation of “Miracle on 34th Street” Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
In “Miracle on 34th Street,” Kris Kringle is institutionalized for claiming to be the real Santa. When a young lawyer named Fred defends Kris in court by arguing that Kris is telling the truth, everyone, including his skeptical love interest Doris, begins to recognize there is more to Christmas than commercialism. Barter’s version of “Miracle on 34th Street” is a musical, adding original songs by Doug Smith and Vern Stefanic to the mix.
The production company staging the play is Barter Theatre, the official state theatre of Virginia, which has produced such alumni as “Friends” writer James Burrows, “Seinfeld” actor Wayne Knight and Academy Award winners Ned Beatty, Gregory Peck and Patricia Neal.
Mary Lucy Bivins, director of the show, said there are six children between the ages of 7 and 10 in the cast of 23, and two of them are the children of other actors in the show.
“The father of the Dutch girl plays Fred,” Bivins said. “Another little girl is the daughter of the girl who plays Doris. We have two more parents that graciously offered to travel with us as chaperones.”
Bivins said she also appears in the play herself as Dr. Pierce, Kris’ caretaker. The tour marks her first time in the western part of the country, she said, and she is looking forward to seeing Mississippi for the first time.
“I was supposed to direct this and then wave goodbye to everyone, but someone dropped out who was scheduled to be in this, and here I am,” Bivins said. “It’s enormous fun to get to actually travel with the show.”
Bivins said the show is timeless and teaches audiences a lesson about Christmas which remains relevant today.
“It’s amazing to think back in 1947 the commercialism and hustle and bustle of Christmas was as rampant as it is today,” Bivins said. “It’s a wonderful holiday treat it really is. It has a great message about what this holiday season is about and what it really should be about all year long.”
Dennis Sankovich, executive director of the Riley Center, said Barter is one of America’s oldest theatre companies. In November 2010, the Riley Center featured Barter’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and Sankovich said this performance was such a success, he began looking for opportunities to bring Barter back.
“They’re a terrific company,” Sankovich said. “All their actors are professional actors, and they do a super job. When I saw that they had a musical, I really liked the idea of having a musical at Christmas.”
Christine Webb, communications manager with Barter Theatre, said “The Diary of Anne Frank” marked the end of a long hiatus for nationally touring shows from the company. Now, she said, Barter Theatre is looking forward to returning to the Riley Center.
“We’re just excited to share some of the holiday season with people around the country, especially in Mississippi,” Webb said. “I think it’s a testament to the quality of our productions when venues do want us back, and we’re certainly happy to come.”
While the Riley Center has hosted a Gilbert and Sullivan opera before, Sankovich said this is the first stage musical the Riley Center has hosted during one of its regular seasons since it re-opened in 2006.
“We’ve done musical children’s productions, but this is our first time doing something of this sort,” Sankovich said. “Doing it at Christmas, I think it all fits. Most of the touring Broadway or touring musicals need more stage space than we can provide, but this can fit on our stage.”
Sankovich said “Miracle on 34th Street” is different from other Christmas shows the Riley Center has hosted, which have mostly consisted of performance artists. He also said it is unique among possible choices for Christmas plays.
“It’s not a common production people see at Christmas like ‘The Nutcracker’ or ‘A Christmas Carol,’ Sankovich said. “This is one that is very special, and Barter commissioned this production, and I think it’s going to be a great show. It’s touring throughout the United States.”
Tickets cost $36-$42 and are available on the Riley Center’s website at http://www.msurileycenter.com or by phone at 662-696-2200.
The last time Barter came to the Riley Center, Sankovich said, there was a matinee of an abridged version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” for students bussed in from school. Sankovich said there will be no matinee this time.
There will, however, still be shuttle service, even though MSU’s fall semester will be over. Shuttles will leave at 4:30 p.m. from the north end of the Zacharias Village lot across from Griffis Hall on campus. Shuttle tickets cost $10 and can be requested by calling the Riley Center box office at 601-696-2200 before ordering concert tickets.

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