Remembering Here’s Love
Meredith Willson gave us one big Broadway smash hit with The Music Man, one modest hit with The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and one critical failure with the musical Here’s Love. For a man who wrote so adeptly about parades and an unlikely romance between two stubborn individuals in The Music Man, Willson seemed like an ideal choice for bringing the classic holiday film Miracle on 34th Street to the musical stage. Here’s Love was that attempt, but the show failed to ignite on Broadway lasting a serviceable (if lackluster) 334 performances. Not exactly a disaster, but this was a time when the big hits were running well over 1,000 performances. The show opened on October 3, 1963, a little over a month before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which may have led to a slump in ticket sales as Broadway as a whole experienced a weak fall and winter that season. Nevertheless, Here’s Love cannot blame all of its shortcomings on the bad timing of its opening.
Perhaps it was the fact that Here’s Love was based on a beloved 1947 film and audiences and critics alike couldn’t divorce themselves from its memory? Perhaps a parade, which is a central part of the story, is hard to recreate effectively onstage? How could it ever be as spectacular as the real Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? Perhaps a musical of Miracle on 34th Street was a seasonal story, unlikely to entice audiences outside of the holiday season? Or, perhaps the show’s less-festive title just didn’t give ticket buyers a clue that they would be seeing a musical version of Miracle on 34th Street? Here’s Love had its challenges along the way, losing its director Norman Jewison during rehearsals, to be replaced by producer Stuart Ostrow. It’s easy to speculate as to why the show didn’t take-off, but sometimes musicals just stubbornly won’t work.
Unsurprisingly, the hit song to come out of Here’s Love is the Christmas classic “It’s Beginning to a Look A Lot Like Christmas.” The song had actually been written by Meredith Willson in 1951 and was already well-known and oft-recorded (by Perry Como and Frank Sinatra, to name a few) when it was interpolated into the musical. The ditty was performed in counterpoint to the new song “Pinecones and Holly Berries.” Willson’s score, however uneven, does have a few solidly-crafted songs that work well within the context of the show, including “Arm in Arm,” “Expect Things to Happen,” “That Man Over There” and the title song.
For anyone who has spent their life living under a rock, the story of Here’s Love/Miracle on 34th Street follows the story of Doris Walker, an executive for Macy’s department store, charged with organizing their famous Thanksgiving Day Parade. When the initial Santa Claus she hires for the parade’s climax is found unsuitable, a last-minute replacement steps in, claiming to be the real Saint Nick. Doris doesn’t believe in Santa, nor does she demonstrate the Christmas spirit in rearing her daughter Susan with a magicless spin on the holidays. Susan is enchanted by the new Macy’s Santa and also by the ex-marine Fred Gally, both of whom are set on helping the little girl embrace the spirit of Christmas. When the Macy’s Santa is arrested and must appear in court, Fred makes it his mission to prove that he is the real Mr. Claus, thereby making a believer out of Susan. Along the way, Fred and Doris fall in love and Kris Kringle delivers on a holiday promise to Susan, converting both her and her mother into believers.
Here’s Love featured a cast that included Janis Paige (Doris), Craig Stevens (Fred), Laurence Naismith (Kris Kringle), Valerie Lee ( Susan), Fred Gwynn (Mr. Shellhammer), Paul Reed (Mr. Macy), and Kathy Cody (Hendrika). Michael Bennett and Baayork Lee were in the ensemble. The musical was choreographed by Michael Kidd. The musical has since been revised and performed under titles that include It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical.