A! Magazine for the Arts

"Miracle on 34th Street" at Barter Theatre in Abingdon features Rick McVey as Santa Claus.

"Miracle on 34th Street" at Barter Theatre in Abingdon features Rick McVey as Santa Claus.

A Christmas 'Miracle'

November 21, 2008

*** This story was published: Nov. 20, 2008 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

ABINGDON, Va. - On a cold and blustery night as snow lingered in the clouds, a dozen or so actors gathered on a third-floor soundstage.

It's Sunday night. Several blocks from Barter Theatre's main stage and less than a week from opening night of "Miracle on 34th Street," actors young and old ran through the play.

Set to run from Nov. 21 through Dec. 28, the play draws from the classic film from 1947. Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle won an Academy Award for best supporting actor. Veteran actor Rick McVey fills the role at Barter.

"It has its challenges because it is Santa Claus," McVey said. "You have to do it from the heart and not from the head."

When McVey steps on stage to play Kris Kringle, he of course does not become Kringle. However, thanks to nearly two months of preparation and acting experience, he said he learns to carry on as Kringle would.

"In the process of rehearsal, you want to think like that person and do what that person would do," McVey said. "You get it into your bones."

Set the stage. Racks of period hats and shoes and coats fill back corners in the room. Actors navigated the center of the soundstage, which was cluttered with such props as a decorated Christmas tree and Santa's huge golden chair.

Director Mary Lucy Bivins, choreographer Amanda Aldridge and stage manager Cindi Raebel sat front and center, eyes and attentions wide open. Before them, "Miracle on 34th Street" was about to unfold.

"It's a really pretty story, a sweet story," McVey said. "Kris Kringle looks for ways to help other people enjoy life."
Per direction, actors readied themselves into their places. McVey as Kringle stood in the center of them.

"This run-through is for you to assimilate all of that [which they had worked on previously]," Aldridge said to the actors.

Bivins chimed in. "Dig deep, everybody," Bivins said. "We've got a great show, and now we just have to put it all together."

McVey clasped Kringle's brown hat and cane, prepared to implant Kringle a bit more into his bones. Then, quiet fell upon the soundstage. One second, two seconds and three passed.

"Lights!" Raebel said, mimicking the moment when lights within the Barter go down and action on stage is to begin.

McVey as Kringle popped the top on the opening scene, a brief interaction with another actor, which ended with belly-whopping laughter.

Scene upon scene ensued. Numbers of actors were introduced, songs were sung and lines were spoken with only a glitch or two noticed.

Skip along several scenes. Amy Baldwin plays Doris Walker, who manages Macy's Department Store in New York City. Kringle walks in and spies Macy's rather drunk Santa.

"Mrs. Walker," Kringle says to Walker, "your Santa is shamelessly drunk!"

Walker's look changes from one of aghast at the drunk Santa to one of surprise as she lays eyes upon Kringle.

"You bear a remarkable resemblance to Santa Claus," Walker says to Kringle, whereupon she hires him to serve as Macy's Santa.

And ideally, the crowd will have by then bought McVey not as McVey, but surely as Kris Kringle.

"In order to keep things as real as possible on stage, things have to be as if they were coming from the character," McVey said. "That's the goal. You have to think like that person thinks. As long as the actor is doing that, then it's a natural response."

And on a good night for a good crowd, that can translate into transformational magic. Christmas on stage, imaginations in place and voila! ? there is that miracle on 34th street.

"It speaks to our hearts," McVey said.