Students to bring Christmas spirit to Glen Ridge with play

Photo Courtesy of Maria Marchione-Novoa
Rehearsing ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ are, from left, Chloé Novoa, Hugo Gillman and Ava Handler.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Glen Ridge High School Drama Club will present two performances of “Miracle on 34th Street” in the high school’s Black Box Theatre on Friday, Dec. 16, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 17, at 2:30 p.m. The production is being co-directed by Angelo DeFazio and Christina Guariglia. 

In a telephone interview with The Glen Ridge Paper, DeFazio said the last winter-themed show the club did was about five years ago, and, at the time, it was not even the holiday season. But now, he thought a Christmas show was a good idea. There are about 20 students in the cast.

The 1947 movie, on which the play is based, is a seasonal favorite and, over the years, has been remade into a radio play, a Broadway musical, a TV adaption, a puppet show and another feature movie. 

The plot is about a little girl, Susan, who was raised by her divorced mother, Doris, not to believe in Santa Claus. When Doris, who works at Macy’s, asks the store Santa to tell Susan he is not really Santa, he refuses. Doris, who hired Santa, then tries to fire him but cannot because it would hurt business. But Santa has a physical altercation with another nonbeliever, an employee, and is sent to a hospital for a psychological evaluation. Embittered by the cynicism surrounding him, Santa plans to have himself committed. But Doris’ attorney boyfriend, Fred, brings the matter to court to prove that his client is not crazy but actually is Santa Claus. He turns the tables on the prosecutor by calling the prosecutor’s small son to testify that his father told him Santa Claus is real. The prosecutor then challenges Fred to prove, with support from a competent authority, that the defendant is the real Santa Claus. The courtroom comedy/drama continues to a final, conclusive gavel.

In the GRHS production, Santa is played by Julian Novoa, Doris is Ava Handler, Susan is Chloé Novoa, Fred is Hugo Gillman and the judge is Sam Blank. DeFazio said most of Act I takes place in Macy’s and most of Act II is in the courtroom.

“It’s never easy to cast a show,” said DeFazio, who has been at the club’s helm for 10 years. “But the good thing, the roles in ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ are really chunky,” he said, adding that “everyone gets a chance to shine.” 

Popular Christmas songs will be sung by cast members between scenes.

“A lot of the kids have good voices,” DeFazio said. “It’s rare that they do. I’m proud of them.”

Ava, who is playing Doris, told The Glen Ridge Paper that the most difficult thing about her role was that it had no singing.

“I’m usually more of a singer,” she said. “It’s been challenging to have a role that’s only acting.”

Hugo, who plays Fred, Santa’s defense attorney, said the most challenging part for him is “playing a character who defends the mythological and magical idea that there is a Santa Claus, against a mob of grinches who don’t believe so.”

“I also have to make it believable,” he added. 

DeFazio said his big challenge was the Black Box Theatre, which he explained is more of a multipurpose room than a traditional theater.

“It’s not a theater and we had to transform it,” he said. “Other groups use it. The challenge is strategic, but the kids love it.”

Despite these challenges, the drama club provides a safe space for students, DeFazio said.

“It’s not like that, maybe for the rest of their lives,” he said. “That’s what theater is, community and inclusivity. The experience is so important to these kids. If it’s not inclusive, it’s not theater.”

He said that Chloé, who plays little Susan, is performing the role of a 10- or 11-year-old.

“That’s appropriate,” DeFazio said. “It works. We’re making it work.”

In an interview, Chloé said she found it challenging to use a little girl’s mannerisms without making them appear babyish or mocking.

“I was able to find something and built off that,” she said. “I started finding the voice, young enough, but not my own voice, and I built the character around that. I also skipped around the stage. I usually don’t skip. Or I’d swing my legs.”

Chloé, a freshman, said it was fun acting like a little kid.

“I enjoyed the scenes where Susan had to be skeptical around Santa,” she said. “She has to be less imaginative at first, but she brings out her imagination at the end of the play. She doesn’t believe in Santa or anything, but he teaches her how to be imaginative and enjoy life.” 

The show has a running time of 90 minutes, including a 10-minute intermission. An entry fee will be charged. After the Saturday matinee, there will be an opportunity for photos with Santa.

Editor’s note: This article was edited to correct a typo in a student’s name.