Rendon thrilled by opportunity to adapt classic Christmas story into Willson’s music

Gifted Lubbock actress Mariel Morgan is a big believer in Christmas films and her husband, Mike, another skilled local thespian, says not one Thanksgiving goes by that she does not greet the coming holiday season by first watching director George Seaton’s original 1947 version of “Miracle on 34th Street.”


Ask Mike to cite his own favorite Christmas movies and it becomes obvious that he prefers from the years of black and white films.

Regardless, both Morgans have roles in the Moonlight Broadway stage production of “Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical,” opening Thursday at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center Theatre. Mike, with his hair and beard colored a wintry white, has the important role of Kris Kringle. It is also interesting to note that Morgan almost immediately felt a deeper bond with the story after he became a stage participant.

Gerald Dolter, founding director of Moonlight Musicals, initially planned to direct this holiday attraction. That was before he committed to directing the Texas Tech Opera Theater’s recent production of “The Mikado,” concluding, “At 30, I might have directed them both, but not at 60.”

However, he already had asked Frank Rendon to assist, and Rendon was thrilled by the opportunity to take over and direct the holiday musical.

This is the 70th anniversary of Seaton’s film. A full color remake arrived in 1994. Just as important was the decision by Meredith Willson, composer of “The Music Man,” to compose his own musical adaptation of “Miracle on 34th Street” back in 1963, called “Here’s Love.” That show earned mixed reviews, but has since been improved and released as “Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical.”

Bottom line: Be assured most familiar characters remain involved, but even fans who feel certain they know the story forward and backwards may find themselves thrilled by new musical numbers. Many in the cast have been singing the praises of choreographer Genevieve Durham, as well.

Could there possibly be any unaware of the story?

Morgan portrays Kris Kringle who, at the very least, feels children should be allowed to believe in the spirit of Christmas and Santa.

Circumstances find him hired as the Santa Claus bringing up the rear of Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Day Parade.

He comes across like a natural, and is hired as a department store Santa by Macy’s executive Doris Walker, portrayed by Rose Fruge Duncan.

Having had her own heart broken before, Doris is a cynical single mom to Susan, a sweet youngster played by talented Abi Mills.

Duncan explained, “Rose is a realist. There is nothing more important to her than her daughter but, not wanting her daughter to be hurt, she will not permit her to believe in fantasy: no Santa, no Easter Bunny. She tells her that she will leave money for each lost tooth, but there is no such thing as a tooth fairy.”

As it turns out, Mills is one of Duncan’s real life acting students; yet neither is intimidated by the other.

In fact, Duncan indicated that the younger actress has become a colleague on stage, rising to the level of whomever might be sharing the stage.

Rendon described the musical adaptation of such a familiar story as theater that “starts off like a straight (non-musical) play, then develops into musical theater.”

Regardless, Rendon said he viewed this musical from the start as one with a nostalgic feel for the original 1947 setting. What you see is aesthetically the New York City and Macy’s department store of the 1940s,” he said.

The rehearsal process finds this coming across in everything from costumes to set design, noted Rendon.

Indeed, Duncan mentioned, “If I could choose an era to return to just for the clothes, it would be the ‘40s.

“My suit is phenomenal. I get a great hairstyle … and I have this wonderful coat.”

Yet the play follows a familiar story. Fred Gailey, played by Daniel Hogan, is attracted to Doris, although he would prefer to see her daughter Susan enjoy her childhood in the manner of other boys and girls. Doris feels she is helping her daughter in the long run by hardening her heart to fantasy.

Naturally, some assume that any person named Kris Kringle might know the real Santa, while the more cynical prefer to believe that he belongs in a mental hospital. Of course, Kris cannot abide those willing to hurt others just to make themselves feel powerful, but then, what’s the use, he concludes, if even friends cannot believe their own eyes.

Consider one of the film’s more enchanting scenes. Kringle — a wonderful performance by Edmund Gwenn in 1947 and now portrayed by Morgan on stage — is sitting on the chair of a department store Santa, listening to the desires of a long line of children. But the next girl in line, portrayed by Aubrey Giselle, is a foreign visitor who speaks only Dutch. Giselle speaks in Dutch — and Morgan replies in Dutch.

And Rendon, not willing to stop there, delivers a musical number shared by Giselle and Morgan.

That sure wasn’t in the movie.

“My goal,” declared Rendon, “is to introduce audiences to the Christmas season. I’d love to be able to guide them toward the Christmas spirit — to point out that, even for those dealing with bad experiences, love is all around us, and we truly can receive as much as we give.”

Some will be surprised to learn that Morgan never was a fan of “Miracle on 34th Street.” This is not the first time, however, that Morgan has been won over by the process.

“Actually performing the role always has that affect on me,” the actor revealed. “This is a show I’ve grown to love simply by being a part of it.

“I love the scene in the toy shop where he meets the heroine, and in the store when he meets the little Dutch girl.”

Morgan added that Durham has brilliantly found ways to make her choreography accessible to skilled and beginning dancers.

Moonlight’s holiday production

* Attraction — Christmas musical “Miracle on 34th St.,” staged as a Moonlight Broadway production. Originally released in 1963 as musical “Here’s Love,” with music, lyrics and book by Meredith Willson, based on 1947 movie “Miracle on 34th St.

* When — 7:30 p.m. Thursday, and Friday. No performance Saturday, so as not to conflict with Texas Tech vs. TCU football game. Also 2 p.m. Nov. 19, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 and 24-25, and 2 p.m. Nov. 25-26.

* Where — Lubbock Memorial Civic Center Theatre, 1501 Mac Davis Lane.

* First weekend — Occurs during Junior League’s Holiday Happening.

* Stage direction — Frank Rendon.

* Music direction — Justin Duncan.

* Choreography — Genevieve Durham.

* Stars — Rose Fruge Duncan, Abi Mills, Mike Morgan and Daniel Hogan.

* Reserved seats — Tickets for general public $65, $50, $35 and $25; tickets for children $65, $25 and $15. All priced include service charges.

* Outlets — Select-A-Seat outlets at Amigo’s Supermarket, Dollar Western Wear, Lubbock Memorial Civic Center, Market Street, Ralph’s Records and United Supermarkets.

* Information — 770.2000.