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The Christmas Shows

gene lockhart circa 1955Miracle on 34th Street is the third play on the Grand's 100th anniversary season. The play is based on the classic Christmas movie which co-starred London-born actor Gene Lockhart as the judge who must rule if there is a Santa Claus or not. In his younger days, Lockhart performed at the Grand as a comic pianist, doing parodies of popular songs. He journeyed to Hollywood in the mid 1930s and enjoyed a busy career as a character actor until his death in 1957.

But the Grand's holiday roots run deeper than all this. In 1948 the Grand began a series of annual children's productions - all of them regular sellouts. Titles included The Frog Fairy, The Light of the Silver Lantern and The Princess and the Swine Heard. By 1958 the casts had grown so large a production of Goldilocks had to feature an extra bear.

1950s children's productionYears before appearing in movies like Titanic and Legally Blonde, a twelve-year old Victor Garber starred in a children's production of Heidi - with some rather messy results.

"I remember when I did Heidi here we had a mother goat and four babies on the stage and they were supposed to stay in this lovely little pen but they didn't," recalls Don Fleckser.

Technical problems continued to haunt the Christmas shows into the 1970s. Prior to a musical production of Hansel and Gretel, the Grand's heating system failed. Industrial heater kept the auditorium warm as the orchestra played the overture - and then the curtain went up.

"The stage tower of course was like an ice box and the entire cold air rushed out into the house," says then artistic director Heinar Piller. "You could see people grabbing their coats. But what was worse the orchestra pit which was the lowest part, of course, the coldest air flowed in there and all the instruments went out of tune… It was one of those moments when everybody realized that something had to be done."

And something was done. During the winter of 1977 the Grand was closed for extensive renovations. While snow fell on its interior, the theatre's artistic director, William Hutt, offered some seasonal cheer for patrons, reading The Night Before Christmas to a television audience from his home in Stratford.

Christmas presents from the Grand have included festival sing-a-longs, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and musical spectaculars like Barnum. There have been adaptations of children's classics: The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows, Anne of Green Gables and You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown.