For the next two weekends, Arena Fair Theatre will perform a version of “Miracle on 34th Street” that began as a radio play but was adapted to include an original frame story.
The new portions of the play were written by David Hejmanowski, who is also directing the show. He explained the show started using the public domain 1947 radio script for “Miracle on 34th Street.”
“The original proposal was a reading of the radio script so the actors would be on stage, they would get up and read and that would be it, and I thought ‘that really wasn’t what I wanted to see done,’” Hejmanowski explained. “I wanted a full stage production using the radio script. The way to do that was to stage it as a radio station putting on a radio production.”
Hejmanowski created a new story around the radio station staff putting on an audio version of the storyline on Christmas Eve during the Korean War. Hejmanowski said the frame story and the original radio play give the audience a “full production with sets, costumes and actors” but allows the actors to read from scripts instead of having to memorize their lines, a crucial factor given the show’s one-month rehearsal schedule. Hejmanowski said the reader theater format also allowed Arena Fair to use more actors who were nervous about having to memorize their lines.
“Now we can get those folks comfortable with being on stage, and hopefully, they’ll participate in other shows with us,” Hejmanowski said.
Gregory Patterson, Arena Fair’s founder and artistic director, said Tuesday he’s enjoying the production of the show and said Arena Fair is trying to branch out and do more creative shows that showcase “the great deal of talent” the company has.
Patterson added what he has enjoyed most about the show is seeing the group’s regular cast of actors be able to grow as actors with different types of material.
Hejmanowski, a veteran player in Arena Fair productions, said it was his first experience writing and directing a show, and he’s not nervous at all about the performances themselves.
“Am I nervous about the product? No, because the actors doing this are spectacular,” he said. “I know the acting product and the technical product are going to good, and I’m hopeful folks will enjoy it. I’m more nervous about who will come and see it. It’s a challenge in this day and age to get word out to people about any event.”
The show is 90 minutes, including an intermission. Hejmanowski said the show has a “wholesome Christmas ending,” and the show is appropriate for all ages.
“(The extra ending is) something that’s appropriate for the season and the spirit of the season,” Hejmanowski said. “It’s something I hope folks will enjoy. It’s a classic Christmas story wrapped in a classic Christmas story.”
The cast will perform the show on Dec. 1, 2, 8 and 9 at 7 p.m., as well as a matinee at 2 p.m. Dec. 3 at Willis Theater. Tickets are available at the door or online at https://www.arenafair.com/.
Margaret Garrett, who plays radio station producer Judy Bailey in the show, said the character is her first lead role and one that she’s excited to play.
“I’m mostly excited, I haven’t had an opportunity like this before,” Garrett said. “The character is fantastic. I love her, and I’m so excited for people to get to meet her. I’m excited that I get an opportunity to show what I can do and really start to get into this world in the way that I wanted for a couple of years now. I’m excited that I get to play this character that I understand and feel for so deeply.”
Garrett said she enjoyed preparing for the show, and the cast has many of the same performers as Arena Fair’s production of “Murder on the Orient Express” in October.
“I really enjoyed just getting to work with this cast. They are so much fun,” Garrett said. “Half of them were in the last show as well. It’s been really fun that it’s continuing on from where we left.”
John Miller, who plays Kris Kringle in the in-universe production of “Miracle on 34th Street,” said the role is a stark contrast to his lead role as Scrooge in last year’s production of “A Christmas Carol.”
“Last year I did Scrooge, so this the flip side of the coin,” he said.
Miller said he’s excited to play a character as jolly as Santa Claus.
“Scrooge frankly was easy for me because I tend to be that way anyways. When Scrooge had to be all happy at the end (of “A Christmas Carol”), that was hard,” Miller said. “This one you can jump right in and be Santa Claus throughout the whole thing. That’s what makes this a lot of fun. I’m not nervous a bit. I’ve been looking forward to having this part.”
Patterson said that after the production, Arena Fair will start preparing for next year’s season, which will include a “Great Gatsby”-themed dinner event on April 6, and a summer musical production of “Hello Dolly.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903.