Once upon a time pantomimes were the only form of festive fun to be staged at Christmas time. Now this time of year sees a veritable selection box of yuletide pre-panto offferings in our provincial theatres.

This week at the Theatre Royal in Windsor is no exception, with a sparkling, all-singing, all-dancing musical version of that perennial film favourite Miracle on 34th Street.

The 1947 black and white 20th Century Fox movie, which won three Academy Awards, is familiar to generations with its wholesome message of goodness overcoming cynicism, as now is the 1994 remake, which saw Richard Attenborough voted the best screen Santa Claus of all time.

So this new musical version, which was having its UK premiere at Windsor, has a lot to live up to, particularly as none of its stars is a household name, though several have West End experience.

It has the benefit of the music and lyrics being written by Meredith Willson, author of the original Miracle on 34th Street book, so there's plenty of New York wit and humour, which, even though some of it is somewhat dated, simply adds to the late 1940s charm of the proceedings.

It's a fast-moving, beautifully-staged production which will delight young and old. It certainly won over the coachloads of slightly-cynical teenagers in the audience on Monday evening!

Genevieve Nicole, whose West End credits include A Chorus Line and Spamalot, is a joy in the role of Doris, the single mom businesswoman who organises the Macy's department store Thanksgiving Parade, retaining the New York accent even while singing  some of the most difficult and wordy lyrics. This aspect of the show is also mastered by Daniel Fletcher as Fred, the former marine who manages to wear down her determined resistance to his charms.

Poppy Carter, who has appeared on film in one of the Harry Potter movies, is a sweet-voiced and confident Susan, with James Murphy as the central character, Kris Kringle, whose claims to be the real Santa Claus end in the courtroom scenes which take up most of the second half. He's as jolly and round as Father Christmas needs to be - it's just a shame his beard isn't a little whiter!

Eleven other multi-talented actors make up the rest of the cast, switching effortlessly between various roles, thanks to some quick costume changes.

The cast of Miracle on 34th Street. Photo by Darren Bell
The cast of Miracle on 34th Street
 

Meredith Willson, whose greatest achievement was The Music Man, originally staged a musical version of Miracle on 34th Street in 1963 under the title Here's Love, and in it he included a version of It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas.
This is probably the only song familiar to most of the audience at Windsor, though that is no handicap as all the other numbers are full of charm and wit and hold their own against any contemorary material. She Hadda Go Back is one of the cleverest, and is performed with perfect timing by Daniel and his 'marine buddies'.

Director Nicola Samer, choreographer and musical director Richard Jones have put together a slick and thoroughly-entertaining show which provides a feelgood festive treat and a welcome antidote to the leering cynicism which dominates so much of the entertainment industry these days. And does it snow on stage? Of course it does. It's Christmas for goodness sake!

Miracle on 34th Street is at The Theatre Royal, Windsor, until Saturday November 30. Contact the box office on  01753 853888  or www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk .