Susannah Jones as Mother, Christopher Swan as The Old Man, Cal Alexander as Randy, and Colton Maurer as Ralphie in A Christmas Story, The Musical. Photo by Gary Emord Netzley.
Anyone who grew up in (or since) the 1980s is familiar with the classic film A Christmas Story. What many are unaware of, however, is that it’s based on tales from acclaimed storyteller and radio personality, Jean Shepherd. However, the latest iteration of the story, aptly named A Christmas Story: The Musical and onstage now at DPAC, fills in some of those gaps by having an onstage Jean Shepherd (Chris Carsten) relate the famous story of little Ralphie Parker (Blake Burnham at the opening night performance) and his desperate quest for a BB gun.
Though the story is set in Indiana in 1940, Joseph Robinette’s updated script proves that it’s just as timeless as ever. Add in heartwarming tunes by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, all under the direction of Matt Lenz, and you’ve got a recipe for Christmas magic.
“Magic” really is a fitting word for this production, which opens on an absolutely perfect set that recreates the movie version of the Parker family home down to the last detail. Open and meticulously designed, it takes movie fans right back to the story and setting they know so well.
And, speaking of movie recreations, Nicholas Reed is an ideal choice as Randy, Ralphie’s whiny little brother. While Reed is appropriately whiny in his role, he’s also adorable and funny, as is the surprisingly brunet Burnham, who boasts powerful pipes and an infectious energy right from the start.
The costumes are also taken straight from the film version, making each scene and character instantly recognizable to most viewers. In particular, the costumes of the show’s “villain”—Ralphie’s bully Scut Farkus (Josiah Smothers on opening night)—are spot-on . . . as is Smothers’ penchant for taunting, teasing, and utter detestability.
What also comes through here is that magical quality of the film to transport every viewer, regardless of age, back to their childhood Christmases. Everyone will remember how Christmas used to feel, how important a present could seem, and the moment when they realized that it wasn’t the present itself that mattered at all. Of course, none of that will stop viewers from rooting for Ralphie and hoping, against all hope, that he ends up with his most-coveted Christmas gift.
Amid all the rooting and hoping, though, viewers are enthralled by the over-the-top, larger-than-life musical numbers. “Ralphie to the Rescue” features a blend of tap dancing, can-can dancing, and ballet . . . but is mostly made up of pure joy. Plus, the number for “A Major Award,” which celebrates the infamous leg lamp Ralphie’s father (Sam Hartley) wins, is as big and bold as the “award” itself. Viewers will also be amazed by the incredible tap solo in “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.”
Of course, this show isn’t all glitz and glamour. Just like the film itself, it’s also packed with heart and tenderness. Briana Gantsweg is particularly effective as Ralphie’s stern-but-sweet-when-it-counts mother and elicits tears with her powerful delivery of “Just Like That.” She’s backed by Hartley’s endearing portrayal and emotional narration from Carsten, which help to make the story relatable to every viewer, in every stage of life.
Perfect as a family show, this version of A Christmas Story is one that’s made for memories. Featuring adorable real dogs, trained by the legendary William Berloni, a wonderfully “slippery” turkey, and a careful editing of the film’s more problematic moments, this story will make everyone feel good. It is heartwarming, sweet, and authentic from beginning to end, and it gives the feeling that, no matter what may be happening around us, in some magical moments, and especially at Christmas, everything can be right with the world.
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