Miracle on 34th Street

by Lisa Lipsey

Rage Monthly

Saturday December 9, 2017

Christmas time is upon us and with it comes "Miracle on 34th Street." You know the one with the department store Santa Claus, who claims he's the real Kris Kringle and gets arrested? His case gets taken all the way to the Supreme Court, of course. And of course, a miracle unfolds thanks to one little girl and everyone clapping their hands because they do believe in fairies, err, the elf leader... something like that. If you're feeling a wee bit cynical as 2017 draws to a close, perhaps you too could use a little miraculous moment to melt your little heart and remind you too, of our common humanity.

All jesting aside, what is super cool about this production is that it's based on the 1947 Lux Radio Hour. Audiences will see and enjoy how a radio studio makes the magic of storytelling come to life. Staged with live Foley effects and a score of favorite holiday tunes, the play was adapted by Lance Arthur Smith with original music and arrangements by Jon Lorenz ("MixTape," "Pump Up the Volume"). Last year this production had its grand premiere under the direction of Colleen Kollar Smith and Brian Rickel served as assistant director. This year, Rickel has stepped into the director's chair and Smith is absent, having taken a full-time role at Moonlight Stage Productions in Vista.

Rickel, an actor and director, has been popping up all over San Diego since moving here six years ago. In his director hat, you may have seen his work in "Winter's Tale" with Sean Cox (Intrepid Theatre Company), "Love, Sex & the IRS" (Grossmont College), "Scapin" (Grossmont College), "Around the

World in 80 Days" (Grossmont College), "Treasure Island" (Grossmont College), "Death at Devil's Cave" (Great American Melodrama), "Lost at Sea" (Great American Melodrama), as an actor in "Stupid Fu**ing Bird" (Cygnet), "Macbeth," "Winter's Tale," "All My Sons," "Joe vs. The Volcano," "Twelfth Night," "Around the World in 80 Days" and "Judevine: Solo." Rickel is also the head of performance in the Grossmont College Theatre Arts Department.

On a more personal note, Rickel and his wife Mandi are looking forward to the birth of their son, with a due date of December 23. Rickel laughs as he tells The Rage Monthly, "We think we are prepared, since neither of us have slept since childhood... We have been too busy with theatre work, I did my first play at age nine. I had a teacher who thought it would be great to direct Shakespeare at the Elementary level. In high school my parents went through a terrible divorce and that's when I began to seek out a new 'family of choice...' theatre people. I made it into the cast of a show at the American River College and I just never stopped, theatre became my life," he said.

"Then graduate school was an interesting time, I was part of a great theatre scene and I really came into being myself. At the same time my [first] wife came out of the closest... We are still very, very close today and both of us are happily remarried."

Back in his director hat, Rickel says, "It is fun to revisit this show. Last year I got to watch Colleen, Lance and Jon work through it, this year, I am remounting Colleen's original direction. Of course, I'm putting my own hand in to it. I really enjoy the original music and arrangements. Mostly, I appreciate that all the cast and crew approach it from the point of view that Santa Claus exists. We need more belief in people and in humanity, a belief in the human spirit."

Rickel notes that the set design is like, "You're walking into a radio studio, with a small theatre sound stage attached to it. The cast all have their Hollywood radio personas and great musicianship as the audience watches them make live radio to world-wide radio listeners. They all know each other from Hollywood, the relationships are important, but they are looking straight out to the audience, telling the story... It is intimate and sweet."

When asked why he was drawn to directing a Christmas show, Rickel shared, "I love Christmas, but I am not a religious person. I am an atheist,

but I love Christmas as a Humanist, because no matter your flavor or belief, like the Blues Traveler Christmas song they performed for the Pediatric AIDS Foundation says, 'If it's Chanukah or Kwanza, solstice, harvest or December 25th, peace on earth to everyone and abundance to everyone you're with.' I wish us all something to believe in beyond the commercialism. You don't have to have a specific religion to believe that common good will prevail."

San Diego Musical Theatre's production of "Miracle on 34th Street: A Live Musical Radio Play" runs through Sunday, December 24, at the Horton Grand Theatre. For tickets and more information, call 858.560.5740,

or go to sdmt.org

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