Tom Durkin always knew he would be a horse racing announcer. To better prepare for that career, the Chicago native thought majoring in drama at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, would be a good way to spend four years.
“There’s no place you can go where they teach you to call a horse race,” said Durkin, who retired in 2014 after career that included 24 years (1990-2014) with the New York Racing Association and 26 years (1984-2000) with NBC Sports.
“If anything would help me, I thought it would be the theater and it certainly did. I really liked Latin, too, but you’re not gonna go anywhere with that.”
He did perform with the Green Bay Community Theater in 1973, but since then his stage has always included a horse race. That changes this weekend when he plays multiple roles, but most notably Mr. Macy, in the Home Made Theater production of “Miracle on 34th Street,” opening Friday at the Spa Little Theater in Saratoga State Park.
The play is based on Valentine Davies’ classic Christmas story that was turned into a Hollywood movie in 1947 starring Maureen O’Hara.
Spirit is more important than a red suit and beard, actor says
“I’m not Laurence Olivier doing MacBeth or something like that,” said Durkin. “I’m glad I didn’t get a huge role, but I am enjoying the whole creative process, and the three characters I play are quite different so I’m having a lot of fun. Everybody here — the director, the other actors, the kids — they’re all good at what they do.”
“Miracle on 34th Street” is set in New York City during the holiday parade season, and focuses on young girl named Susan, played by Natalie Wood in the movie, who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. Durkin says he’s a fan of the movie, and had been thinking about returning to the theater for a while.
“This was the play they were doing, I have the time, so why not?” said Durkin, who has had a home in Saratoga Springs since 1995. “The last show I did was ‘Promenade’ in Green Bay and I enjoyed it, but I really just didn’t have the time while I was working.”
Along with playing Mr. Macy, owner of one New York’s largest department stores, Durkin portrays an inebriated Santa Claus and a radio announcer.
“Some would say I don’t have to play against type for those two roles,” joked Durkin. “But the Mr. Macy role is my main part, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great story and pretty much just like the movie.”
Durkin said his love of horse racing at an early age kept him from spending too much time on other matters.
“I needed some focus in school, so I tried out for the lead in a play and I got it,” he said. “I was pretty much of a playboy in college, and I wasn’t a great student unless I had a real interest in what I was studying.
“I wasn’t motivated unless I liked what I was doing, and I knew from an early age that I was going to become a race announcer. During the summer of my college years that’s what I did, and taking drama classes and doing some theater does really help you.”
Patrick Quinn, who is playing Kris Kringle, praised Durkin’s return to acting.
“He’s doing a beautiful job,” Quinn said. “He plays three very different characters, and he’s doing each one very well.”