By Crystal McGough, Editor
TRUSSVILLE – ACTA Theater is in the holiday spirit as talented local actors and crew prepare for the opening of “Miracle on 34th Street: The Play.”
Directed by Suellen Wilkins, “Miracle on 34th Street” is a classic among Christmas tales, encouraging everyone who watches to experience first-hand the journey from disbelief to belief.
“I love this play. The old movie, I just love, and I’ll watch it anytime and anywhere,” Wilkins said. “They’ve made remakes and they’re OK for me, but the old one, I love. It’s just a sweet, lovely play for Christmas – a family play. Anybody can come see it.”
The cast is made up of both new actors and long-time theater veterans, including retired Hewitt-Trussville theater teacher Paula Brown, who is back on the stage for the first time in 30 years in the role of New York Judge Harper.
“Suellen and I share a love of teaching theater throughout high schools,” Brown said. “I have been directing and choreographing for (the last 30 years), so I’m excited to be back here.”
Scott Frazier has been cast in the role of Kris Kringle himself, and is ready to help bring the joy of Christmas to the Trussville community.
“There’s very few roles for old, fat, gray men, and I thought that I had a chance at this one,” Frazier said. “Suellen was very kind to let me have the opportunity to give it a shot.”
The lead child role, Susan Walker, is played by Hallie Burnell. Though young, Hallie is not new to the stage, having awed crowds with an adorable performance in “School of Rock” last summer. Hallie began practicing for the role of Susan Walker last summer, before auditions had even begun.
“I like Christmas shows, and (Susan) is in my age,” Hallie said. “I really like the character.”
Playing Susan’s mom, Doris Walker is Summer Martin, who was previously cast in a lead role in “The Curious Savage.”
“I worked with Miss Suellen for my first play here and I love her and respect her,” Martin said. “I’m most excited about being in the play with my daughter, Jewel. She’s an elf. I was also excited to play Susan’s mom because being a mom is my favorite thing to do!”
Josh McDaniel, a theater veteran who most recently played Gomez Addams in the Leeds Art Council’s production of “The Addams Family” is playing Fred Gayley, the Walkers’ neighbor who becomes Susan’s babysitter and has a romantic interest in Doris. Fred Gayley is also the attorney who defends Kris Kringle at his trial.
Doris, who is recently divorced, is a non-believer in both Santa and love, passing down those traits to her daughter, Susan.
“Fred is a firm believer in both and he wants Doris and Susan to enjoy everything that comes with having faith in something that’s bigger than yourself,” McDaniel said.
Playing the New York State Attorney Mara is Scott Duncan.
“This is my third time on stage, so I’ve caught the theater bug,” he said. “This is a movie I saw years ago. Of course, I’m aware of Suellen’s directing skill from my wife who has been in a couple of plays with her before. When I saw this, I knew I had to come out for it.”
Leslie Price plays the role of Agatha Sawyer, a vocational guidance counselor at Macy’s Department Store who tried to get Kris Kringle placed in a mental institution.
“For my character, deep in their childhood they were not allowed to believe in Santa Claus, so when this man shows up at Macy’s claiming to be Santa Claus, claiming to be this magical person, it just can’t be real. This person has to be crazy to actually think that they’re Santa Claus.”
Teriann Bailey plays Dr. Pierce, the resident physician at the Maplewood Home, and a good friend and advocate for Kris Kringle.
Erin Burnell plays the role of Hollaran, Judge Harper’s political campaign manager who is trying to get her re-elected and encouraging her to root for Santa.
“But I’m really here because my sweet Hallie (Susan Walker) begged and pleaded,” Burnell said. “I have never set foot on the stage. It has been a fun family memory, a fun Christmas memory.”
Another Burnell, Erin’s other daughter, Maggie, is also in the play as Al, an elf who works at the postal office with fellow elf Lou, played by Libby Lybrand.
“We’re like the dynamic postal worker duo,” Maggie said. “It’s pretty fun.”
“This is a family show and that’s the way I wanted it,” Wilkins said in reference to several parent-child and spouse combinations in the cast.
Rounding out the cast are Jonny Cates (playing Mr. Macy, owner and manager of Macy’s Department Store) and Brence Daggett (playing the roles of Bailiff Finley and Shellhammer).
Cates joined the play to act alongside his two daughters, Olivia and Annie, and Daggett said he is simply a long-time fan of ACTA Theater.
“I love ACTA Theater. It is my favorite theater ever,” Daggett said. “I’ve been acting here since 2018. The people I’ve met at ACTA Theater have changed my life for the better, so I love this place.”
Tickets for “Miracle on 34th Street” go on sale to the public on Friday Nov. 17, and the show opens on Dec. 1, with 7 p.m. performances on Dec. 1,2,7,8 and 9, and 2:30 matinees on Dec. 3 and 10.
For more information, please visit actatheater.com.