Big League Productions, Inc.’s national tour of A Christmas Story: The Musical, staged with brio by director Matt Lenz and crisply choreographed by choreographer Warren Carlyle and associate choreographer Jason A. Sparks — especially the delightful tap-dance sequences — opened at the Durham Performing Arts Center the day after the day after the day after Christmas. This crowd-pleasing holiday musical rekindles the Christmas spirit with its nostalgic glimpse of the countdown to the big day in 1940 in the fictional Midwestern town of Hohman, Indiana, modeled on radio and TV broadcaster, author, and storyteller extraordinaire Jean Shepherd’s home town of Hammond, Indiana.
(According to A Christmas Story House & Museum in Cleveland, OH, Shepherd actually grew up on Cleveland Street and attended Warren G. Harding Elementary School in Hammond, where there was also a Hohman Street.)
Based on Shepherd’s semi-autobiographical stories and the perennially popular 1983 film, for which they provided the gist, the 2012 Broadway musical earned three 2013 Tony Award® nominations — for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (Joseph Robinette), and Best Original Score Written for the Theatre (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul). It also received a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Musical.
Elizabeth Hope Clancy (costumes), Charlie Morrison (lighting), Dan Hanna (sound), and Gerard Kelly (hair and wigs) take the DPAC audience for an eventful stroll down Memory Lane, just as the Greatest Generation was enjoying its last peaceful Christmas before World War II. William Berloni’s animals — the Bumpus Hounds played by Reba and Jethro — spice up the proceedings, and tour scenic designer Michael Carnahan’s artful adaptation of Walt Spangler’s imaginative snow-globe set deserves its own special round of applause.
Blake Burnham was cute as young Ralphie Parker, whose Christmas list consists of a single item: wants a “[Daisy] Red Ryder range-model, carbine-action BB gun, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” Burnham, who alternates with Keegan Gulledge in the role, was also a scream in his pink bunny pajamas.
Nicholas Reed, who plays Ralphie’s whiny little brother Randy Parker, has one note to hit; and he scores a bull’s-eye. Carson O. Shelton and Ryan Umbarila are good as Ralphie’s best friends Schwartz and Flick, and Umbarila is downright hilarious in the Flick-licks-the-flag-pole scene and its aftermath.
Josiah Smothers and Parker Burnham, subbing for Jay Hendrix and Ben Sadowsky, are appropriately menacing as the school bullies, Scut Farkus and Grover Dill; and Luli Mitchell is amusing as their know-it-all classmate Esther Jane. The role of their long-suffering teacher, Miss Shields, gives Sierra Wells a chance to strut her comic stuff to a fare-thee-well.
Briana Gantsweg and especially Sam Hartley, who play Ralphie and Randy’s Mother and father (a.k.a. The Old Man), put on a comic clinic as they deal with their precocious progeny, a furnace afflicted with “clinkers,” an NSFW (not safe for work) lamp that The Old Man won in some sort of contest, and the predations of the Bumpus Hounds. Jean Shepherd — the musical’s narrator, played here by Chris Carsten — also heightens the hilarity of this belated Christmas gift to DPAC patrons and Triangle theatergoers of all ages.
Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, and Joseph Robinette’s A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE MUSICAL (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 1 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 29-Jan. 2), presented as part of Truist Broadway at DPAC (Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham). TRAILERS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isxIym6j6b8&t=2s and https://www.youtube.com/user/achristmasstorybway. 2021-22 TRUIST BROADWAY AT DPAC SEASON: https://www.dpacnc.com/truist-broadway/season/2021-2022-truist-broadway-at-dpac. THE SHOW’S OFFICIAL WEBSITES: https://www.achristmasstoryontour.com/, http://bigleague.org//?portfolio=christmas-story, https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/a-christmas-story-the-musical-493217, https://www.facebook.com/AChristmasStoryOnTour, https://www.instagram.com/christmasstorytour/, https://twitter.com/XmasStoryTour, and https://www.youtube.com/user/achristmasstorybway. CAST: http://www.achristmasstoryontour.com/cast/. CREATIVE TEAM: http://www.achristmasstoryontour.com/creative/. TICKETS: $25-$119.50, plus taxes and fees. Call 800-982-2787 or click here to buy tickets. GROUPS (10+ tickets): 919-680-2787, Groups@DPACnc.com, and https://www.dpacnc.com/events/groups-services. DIRECTIONS: https://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/directions. PARKING: https://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/parking. DPAC COVID-19 REQUIREMENTS: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/vaccination-and-covid-19-test-requirements. INFORMATION: 919-680-2787 or CustomerService@DPACnc.com. Susie Potter’s Review.
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing email@example.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)