When I had the opportunity to play Kris Kringle in “Miracle on 34th Street” I knew I had a unique acting challenge. Playing a real person is hard enough but playing a real person, who believes himself to be a magical spirit, and the embodiment of a legend, was very demanding.
I decided to base my characterization in the reality of expertise. In my imaginary biography Kris was a man who set out to know everything he could about St. Nicholas and Father Christmas, and who was recognized as an expert (as an importer of hand crafted toys and successful author of holiday mail order catalogs). Then through family connections he was covertly honored by a group of magicians to represent the spirit ritually. Through this experience Kris claimed the right to his identity as the “real” Santa (or at least the elected representative for a group of true believers).
But I thought Kris’ also needed to be an entertainer. I posited that when his “expertise” ceased to support him (I imagined his company was taken from him in a hostile take-over), he decided to make an exhibit of himself for the entertainment of others: and he took to the vaudeville stage with a Christmas act.
Those three elements, his expertise, his belief in his own validity and his desire to entertain were the elements on which I hung my characterization. After playing Kris Kringle with those imaginary given circumstances, it occurred to me that I might also have a “Christmas Act” making use of what I had learned, imagined and performed. That’s the rich background to Santa Songs.
So it’s not surprising when people find depth in my conception of what is supposed to be a light holiday entertainment. People are amazed that there are “so many Santa songs!” Well, when I couldn’t find a song I needed to tell my story completely, I sought out a friendly composer and had them written! I also adapted and wrote others myself. Then I lived with the material for several years and tweaked the program until it did what I had originally conceived.
I wanted to do justice to the historical truth and the magical appeal of the character joyously told through song and story. But this is not easily conveyed to the general public and Santa Songs has yet to achieve its promise in terms of finding a wider audience. People who see it are consistently impressed and entertained. But the next challenge is to find that larger audience.