Almost everyone has seen the movie. Almost no one has seen the musical.
“Miracle on 34th Street” tells the story of an elderly man named Kris Kringle who claims to be Santa Claus. With the help of a lawyer, Kringle attempts to convince a no-nonsense businesswoman and her practical young daughter — along with all of New York City — that he really is Santa.
The 1947 film is a beloved holiday classic starring Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and a young Natalie Wood.
And now, opening Fri , is “Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical” at Heritage Theatre in Perry.
“It’s the very same story as the movie,” said Marilyn Whipple, director of the upcoming production. “It’s just with music.”
The 1963 musical was written by Meredith Willson, the composer who also created the Broadway classic “The Music Man.”
“It lasted only a couple of years on Broadway,” Whipple said of the musical “Miracle.” “I think the reason it didn’t succeed is JFK was assassinated, and that threw the country out of whack.”
Whatever the reason, the play never got much attention, and few people have even heard of it.
“I didn’t even know about it until they asked me to direct it,” Whipple recalls. “I said, ‘Really? There’s a musical?’ I know that SCERA did it down in Orem a couple of years ago, so it is done once in awhile — but not like an ‘Elf’ or ‘Scrooge’ or ‘Christmas Carol.’”
Heritage Theatre’s “Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical” features a cast of 50. It stars Dee Pace as Kris Kringle, whom Whipple said people will recognize from shows throughout the region.
“Dee just brings life to Kris Kringle,” she said. “You imagine Santa being kind, gentle, loving and instantly your friend, and that’s what he brings to the role.”
Sadie Jeppsen and Camila Lucena are double-cast in the role of the young Susan Walker; Whipple says they’re both “great little actresses.”
Daren Saunders provides comedic relief as Mr. Shellhammer, and Susan’s mother, Doris Walker, is played by community theater veteran Karlie Clark.
“She’s one of those actresses you don’t have to really direct — she’s a natural,” Whipple said.
Fred Gaily, Doris Walker’s love interest, is played by Clark’s real-life husband, theater newcomer Michael Clark. Whipple said she likes to give newcomers a chance in her community theater productions, in order to grow the acting pool for future shows.
And the marital connection between the Clarks comes in handy for the kiss between their two characters, according to Whipple.
“I told them this has to be the world’s greatest kiss,” she said. “It was so cute when they were rehearsing, with all of us cheering.”
Although audiences probably won’t recognize most of the songs in the show — “Pinecones and Holly Berries” being the exception — Whipple said the music sounds very much like Willson’s tunes in “The Music Man.”
Speaking of which, in the coming year Whipple will be directing a second Meredith Willson musical at Heritage.
“After this one, I turn right around and do ‘The Music Man,’” she said. “I’m doing two Meredith Wilson musicals, back to back. And he only wrote three.”
“Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical” closes Dec. 22 with a Saturday matinee, not an evening show.
“I decided I want my cast to be able to go home and have Christmas,” Whipple said.
Tickets are selling fast, according to the director. Last year’s Heritage production of “A Christmas Carol” sold out in the first week, and this year matinees are already “pretty well sold out.”
Although the musical isn’t often staged, Whipple said it makes for a great holiday show that audiences will love.
“And it really is the world’s greatest kiss,” she said.