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Fargo radio personality Paul Bougie takes the stage at FMCT as Santa for second consecutive Christmas musical

'This is a real heartfelt Santa," actor says of 'Miracle on 34th Street role.

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Katy Niemeyer hold a mirror as Paul Bougie looks at his transformation into Kris Kringle in the FMCT production of "Miracle on 34th Street."
David Samson/The Forum
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MOORHEAD — To hear Paul Bougie explain it, Santa Claus wasn’t necessarily the role he wanted to play, but rather the role he was destined to play.

Make that, the role he was destined to play again.

After starring as St. Nicholas in Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre’s production of “Elf: The Musical,” he dons the red coat and hat again in the company’s “Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical.”

“Based on the size, you go, ‘He’s going to be Santa,’” the actor says with a laugh before Wednesday night’s rehearsal.

The play follows the 1947 movie about a single mom who tries to keep her young daughter grounded in reality until hiring a man who claims to be the real Kris Kringle to play Santa at Macy's.

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Paul Bougie plays Kris Kringle in the FMCT production of "Miracle on 34th Street."
David Samson/The Forum

Until recently Bougie’s best known acting may have been television spots like those for Tailgators in the late 1990s when he starred as a Minnesota Vikings fan watching games with a Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears fans .

He says last year director Dawn Bye Gunderson approached him to play Santa Claus in “Elf.”.

“Through a comedy of errors, I became Santa and it was a blast,” he says. “When you get the name Santa attached to you, with so many kids around you in the show, it’s great. They all gather around you.”

“He’s probably kinda stereotyped into the role,” director Shanara Lassig says of the 6-foot, 4-inch actor.

Playing Santa this year isn’t a repeat of last year’s performance. In the movie “Elf,” Santa is played as gruff and determined by Lou Asner. In the film versions of “Miracle on 34th Street,” Kris Kringle was played as a kinder, gentler, more refined old soul by English actors Edmund Gwenn in the 1947 original and Richard Attenborough in the 1994 remake.

“This is a lot different than ‘Elf’ was,” Bougie says. That was tongue-in-cheek. I mean, in act 2 I come out with a glass of bourbon. This one is a more heartfelt Santa. It’s really different, but the kids act the same way. I know it sounds cheesy, but It comes off absolutely magical.”

“I see both of them in me,” he says of the two Santa roles. “I can be gruff, but my friends know that I’m that kind person too. It’s not that far out of reach to be that way.”

Lassig says his laugh and kindness make him the right choice to play Father Christmas.

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Paul Bougie plays Kris Kringle and Gabi Soliman plays Susan Walker in the FMCT production of "Miracle on 34th Street."
David Samson/The Forum

A longtime radio personality, including at WDAY Radio until a few months ago, Bougie is now news director for Dakota News Network.

The Santa he grew up with was the jolly old elf used in Coca-Cola ads.

“I put out the food for him on Christmas Eve and it looked like a day at the Golden Corral,” he says. “It was epic.”

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This year’s Santa even looks different with wardrobe chief Shelli Herman making a whole new Santa suit for him. Last year’s suit was a couple of sizes too big, but they rolled with it.

So, is Bougie plumping up with padding to play The Big Guy?

“No padding,” he says, patting his belly. “It’s all real Santa here.”

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Paul Bougie is playing Kris Kringle in the FMCT production of "Miracle on 34th Street."
David Samson/The Forum

Well, not all real. He did have to dye his hair white

Last year he wore a wig, but since he has to take off and put on his hat so many times in the show he opted to skip the wig. With the help of his friend Tim Williams at Details Salon, he went prematurely white.

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“A lot of people don’t recognize me. The feedback has been really positive,” Bougie says.

The biggest transformation is wearing a more realistic beard.

“Last night I got the beard. I put it on and was walking around and ran into (FMCT Executive Director) Judy Lewis and it brought her to tears and I go, “Done! We are on!”

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Katy Niemeyer applies a beard to Paul Bougie for his character of Kris Kringle in the FMCT production of "Miracle on 34th Street."
David Samson/The Forum

“I put it on and I just start…” he trails off and mimics stroking a beard.

The hair and makeup person, Katy Niemeyer, affixes the moustache and beard with medical adhesive, then fluffs it to make it look natural.

“This is the most makeup I ever put on for a show,” he says as she adds color to make his cheeks like roses, his nose like a cherry.

“You’re beautiful,” Niemeyer teases him.

“Without her I’m a fat guy without a beard,” he says, then looks in the mirror. “This is wild.”

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Katy Niemeyer applies a mustache to Paul Bougie for his portrayal of Kris Kringle in the FMCT production of "Miracle on 34th Street."
David Samson/The Forum

Playing this kinder, gentler Santa also requires Bougie to change his singing technique.

“I can’t growl and roar like I did with the Front Fenders,” he says.

Another difference from the Front Fenders is his stage presence. When he was in the group he would often pace back and forth across the stage. “Miracle” choreographer Karin Ruud noticed that during rehearsals and stood next to him, holding onto his arm to keep him in one place and not roaming.

“I have a way of being persuasive,” Ruud says.

Bougie gets more singing parts in this show, including a solo on “Here’s Love.”

“There are a lot of sweet moments. A lot of little magical moments.”

Next year’s holiday production will be a musical version of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” so Bougie doesn’t know when he’ll play Santa again. Still, he has his eyes on depicting another larger than life figure, Ghost of Christmas Present in “A Christmas Carol.”

If you go

What: “Miracle on 34th Street”
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays - Saturdays, 5:30 p.m. Dec. 11 and 18
Where: FMCT at the Hjemkomst Center
Info: Tickets range from $15 - $28. fmct.org

Related Topics: THEATERRADIO
For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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