Father Malachy's Miracle

St. James Theatre / Nov. 29, 1937

(starring Al Shean / 125 performances)

Father Malachy's Miracle opened Nov. 17, 1937 and ran through March 1938 at the St. James Theatre.

From Time Magazine:

Monday, Nov. 29, 1937

Father Malachy's Miracle (adapted by Brian Doherty from Bruce Marshall's novel; produced by Delos Chappell). When devout little Father Malachy (Al Shean), with the help of God (offstage), sent a dance hall whizzing 20 miles through the air, he was not damning dance halls. He was proving to a skeptical Anglican parson (Frank Greene) miracles could still be performed, and he hit on the dance hall only because it was handy. The miracle was a fine success, but the Pope disapproved. "Too showy and new-fangled," said the bishop (St. Clair Bayfield). The dance-hall customers also complained, although, after the cabaret took off from its Edinburgh street, it made a perfect three-point landing on a crag at sea without spilling a drink or disturbing the floor show.

Suspecting Father Malachy of being in league with Red Russia, a policeman tries to arrest him for disorderly conduct. A high-voltage U. S. publicity man angles for exclusive rights to promote Father Malachy in movies and press. A suave cardinal on a secret visit from Rome announces that Mother Church considers it unwise to recognize the miracle officially. Assuming that Father Malachy intended to cleanse the parish morally, the cardinal reasons: ''If priests were to make a habit of moving cabarets every time they exceed the theological definition of chastity . . . the air would be filled with flying cabarets."

Snubbed and misunderstood, Father Malachy realizes that the world is not ready for miracles. The dance hall, which he hoped to convert into a shrine, changes its name to The Miracle Casino, does business by the boat load. On Christmas Eve Malachy kneels among the Casino's drunken customers and performs a second wonder which leaves things pretty much at scratch.

Where older hands fumble the difficult job of turning books into plays, Playwright Doherty, a young Toronto barrister, succeeds. His dramatization retains the saltily reverent flavor that won for Bruce Marshall's novel an appreciative public.

Al Shean (né Schoenberg), as Father Malachy, atones for lack of force by endearing benignity. He was just as endearing nearly 18 years ago when, with the late Ed Gallagher, he stepped out on a Bronx vaudeville stage to introduce a refrain that still echoes its "Positively, Mr. Gallagher. Absolutely, Mr. Shean." Gallagher & Shean kept the nation chuckling over their fresh lyrical topicalities for five years, until fame and boomtime stage salaries went to Gallagher's head. He dissipated fortune and health, died almost penniless. Shean preserved his equilibrium and his money, played on Broadway in Light Wines and Beer, Music in the Air, returned to, Hollywood in 1934 as a cinema character actor. Least-known fact about him is that he is an uncle of the comic Marx Brothers.

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