The light-and-lively national mini-tour of A Christmas Story: The Musical, which features an invigorating score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and a sassy script by Joseph Robinette, based on the ever-popular 1983 Warner Bros. motion picture, is an early Christmas present for Triangle theatergoers still digesting their Thanksgiving turkey. Presented locally in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium by Broadway Series South, the North Carolina Theatre, and Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy, A Christmas Story: The Musical streamlines the plot of Jean Shepherd’s beloved Yule time story, set in 1940 in a fictional Indiana town, and livens it up with show-stopping production numbers such as “Ralphie to the Rescue!” and “A Major Award.”
Clarke Hallum is a delight as nine-year-old Ralphie Parker. All Ralphie wants for Christmas is “a Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time [i.e., a sundial].” But his parents, his teacher, etc., don’t share Ralphie’s enthusiasm. Indeed, each and every one of them warns: “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
While Ralphie is galloping to the rescue on a stick horse — in one of the musical’s choice reveries — John Bolton as Ralphie’s father The Old Man and Rachel Bay Jones as Ralphie’s Mother are stealing the show, scene by scene. The Old Man dodges his hillbilly neighbors’ hounds on his way to and from work and fights a never-ending war with the brackafrash “clinkers” that cause the fricking furnace to conk out. Meanwhile, Mother nurtures Ralphie and his skittish little brother Randy (a nice cameo by Matthew Lewis) as they deal with bullies — Charlie Plummer as Scut Farkus and John Francis Babbo as Scut’s toady Grover Dill — and girls, such as Esther Jane (Drea Gordon), who wants to be Ralphie’s girlfriend as much as he wants his Red Ryder BB gun.
Also excellent are Karen Mason as Ralphie’s fourth-grade teacher Miss Shields — especially in the fantasy sequence in which she morphs into the Wicked Witch of the West from the 1939 motion-picture version of The Wizard of Oz — and Gene Weygandt gives a warm and winning performance as author Jean Shepherd, who provides a running commentary on Ralphie’s coming-of-age story, and — briefly, in Ralphie’s imagination — as comic-strip, radio, and television cowboy hero Red Ryder.
The vivacious musical staging of director John Rando and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, and musical director Ian Eisendrath helps A Christmas Story: The Musical sparkle like a fine diamond under the Christmas tree. Walt Spangler’s imaginative scenic design and Elizabeth Hope Clancy’s costume design also deserve kudos for facilitating the storytelling in a script that is chock-full of fantasy sequences.
On opening night, there were a few glitches with the scenery. Those rough spots should be long gone by now. But the warmth and wit of A Christmas Story: The Musical remains — a fitting start for the Yuletide season.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 1st Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/12/01/1681409/ralphie-goes-all-musical-in-new.html and Nov. 25th preview by David Menconi: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/11/25/1667007/his-eye-is-fine-thanks.html; Nov. 30th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5212; Nov. 26th New York City Playbill.com preview by Sheryl Flatow: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/156910-Watch-Out-for-A-Christmas-Story-the-Musical-Youll-Shoot-Your-Eye-Out; Nov. 25th Washington, DC NPR preview by Jeff Lunden: http://www.npr.org/2011/11/25/142673831/a-christmas-story-musical-sing-out-ralphie?ft=1&f=101672137; and Nov. 18th Raleigh, NC WRAL-TV interview by David Crabtree with Peter Billingsley: http://www.wral.com/entertainment/video/10369177/. (To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Nov. 29th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/11/five-city-tour-of-a-christmas-story-the-musical-hopes-to-score-a-bulls-eye-in-raleigh-nc/.)
Broadway Series South, North Carolina Theatre, and Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy present A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE MUSICAL at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 and 4 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
Progress Energy Center Box Office: 919/831-6060 (information only).
Ticketmaster: 800/745-3000, 919/834-4000, or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/1604015.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/996-8707, email@example.com, or http://www.progressenergycenter.com/broadway-series-south/group-sales.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://achristmasstorythemusical.com/vidIntro.php.
STUDY GUIDE: http://achristmasstorythemusical.com/education/ACS_Study_Guide.pdf.
Broadway Series South: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/broadway-series-south.
North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/.
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 2 p.m. Dec. 3rd performance.
A Christmas Story: The Musical: http://achristmasstorythemusical.com/ (official website).
Director John Rando: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rando (Wikipedia) and http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=75515 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Film: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Christmas_Story_(1983_film) (Wikipedia) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085334/ (Internet Movie Database).
Jean Shepherd: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Shepherd (Wikipedia) and http://www.flicklives.com/ (fan site).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.