SWOYERSVILLE — With a false beard and mustache, a fat suit and a kind demeanor, Kevin Costley feels comfortable portraying Kris Kringle.
But when he stepped out on stage at the Music Box Dinner Playhouse for last weekend’s opening of “Miracle on 34th Street,” the local actor was a bit concerned.
“Because of my past performances as Scrooge (the curmudgeonly miser in ‘A Christmas Carol’), I thought audiences might not be able to take that leap of faith with me,” Costley said.
Proof that he didn’t have to worry came after the show, when the mother of a special-needs daughter who had been sitting in the front row approached him.
“Her mother said, ‘Would you mind talking to her?’ She wanted me to keep the persona,” Costley said. “I talked to the young lady for about five minutes, wished her a Merry Christmas, and said I would see her on Christmas.
“It was really, really special, particularly coming off the stage after my first performance.”
Costley and a cast of 20 performers, ages 6 through 60, will continue the show on Thursdays through Sundays through Dec. 17, giving audiences a chance to watch Kris Kringle charm a girl named Susan and her mother, Doris, who is an employee of Macy’s department store.
Doris is “a complete cynic because of her past relationships and her divorce,” Costley said. “Santa is able to win the kid over much more quickly.”
Perhaps happiness for Susan and Doris will involve Fred, a neighbor who sings what Costley describes as one of the musical’s most beautiful numbers, “I Wish.”
“The songs aren’t really very well known although it’s a Meredith Willson show,” Costley said. “The songs didn’t pop out of this show the way they did from ‘Music Man’ or ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown.’”
Still, audiences should be familiar with the tune “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas,” and they’ll probably be delighted by a song Kringle sings with a little Dutch girl, which shows he understands children no matter what language they speak.
So, is Kris Kringle the real Santa Claus?
“In the movie and in the play, there is ambiguity. It’s never really proven,” Costley said. “But I think anyone who watches with an open mind and an open heart believes that it’s true.”