A Christmas Story
Book by Joseph Robinette
Despite sight-line issues, this show is pure holiday joy!
|Madstone Productions and Patriot Productions presents|
|A Christmas Story the Musical!|
Review by Katy Walsh
A reviewer’s job is to tell theatre-goers what s/he saw. Well, from Aisle 2, Seat KK 318, I only saw 66% of A Christmas Story the Musical!. This was my first play in the legendary Chicago Theatre since the 1990‘s Donny Osmond’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. For that show, I sat in the balcony without any sight issues. I imagine that would be true for this show too. The prime seats are center, main floor. On the seating chart, I’d say the problem starts in either sections 3-Right or 3-Left and progressively gets worse moving to the sides of the building. This impacts 2R/2L on into the Grinches-in-the-making in 1R/1L. The issue is the stage is deep, so, any activity taking place further back is completely lost to the side aisles. In addition, the narrator and his foley artist are perched on either side of the stage frame further obstructing the view. The technique is to give a radio show feel. Well, for me and hundreds of patrons, the irony of that decision loses the humorous angle (why can’t they move these set pieces away when those characters are not in the scene?).
Nonetheless, what I saw and heard I loved! A Christmas Story the Musical IS the 1983 iconic movie but with more heart and song. Radio humorist Jean Shepherd narrates his recollections of a memorable Christmas. In 1940, all he wanted for Christmas was a Red Ryder Carbine Action two hundred shot range model air rifle. Leading up to Christmas, Ralphie works all the angles to secure the prize. He is obsessed. He writes a school essay. He hints to his parents. He tells Santa Claus. In between his single-minded quest for the perfect gift, life happens. A Christmas Story is relatable nostalgia. It’s going (childhood)-home-for-the-holidays where the unforgettable Christmases were always the imperfect ones
The creative team of Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Joseph Robinette perfectly translate movie classic to live performance. Jean Shepherd’s cult-like movie quotes heighten the comedy. ‘You’ll shoot your eye out.‘ ‘I triple dog dare you.‘ ‘Awwww, fudge!‘ The familiar mingles with the bright, shiny, new music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The addition of songs to the show feel natural. Cast members seem to organically slip into a song or musical fantasy number. So much so, I’m certain I’ll start to *remember* the original movie as having songs in it. Throughout the show, I’m continually impressed by the talented neighborhood kids. They sing. They tap. They amaze! In particular, Clarke Hallum (Ralphie) has remarkable stage presence. Hallum confidently hits his high notes and punch lines. Along with his adult version played by Gene Weygandt, the duo find a sweet, sentimental realization in hindsight and in-the-moment. Beautiful stuff!
The rest of the family is much more human than their Hollywood-ized counterparts. John Bolton (dad) is hilarious with his colorful rants over the furnace and his dancing excitement over the one-legged lamp. (The spectacular one-legged lamp dance, choreographed by Warren Carlyle, was 70% visible from my vantage point.) Bolton’s interaction with Hallum and Rachel Bay Jones (mom) are charming snippets of unconditional love. Bolton and Jones showcase this strong bond of paternal and martial love. Jones sings my favorite song of the show ‘Just like that.‘ She is comforting her kids and the theatre side sections with ‘A moment comes, a moment goes, just like that the moment is gone.‘ Profound on many levels. An oversized Randy, played by Matthew Lewis, is adorable as the non-eating, cubby-hiding younger brother.
A Christmas Story the Musical! is all about family! And this one is flawed AND lovable! This quotable dialogue from the movie and play sums it up perfectly for me..
Mr. Parker: Yeah? Did you get everything you wanted?
Ralphie: Well almost.
Mr. Parker: ALMOST huh? Well that’s life. Well there is always next Christmas.
|Rating for center section: ★★★½|
|Rating for side sections: ★★½|
A Christmas Story the Musical! continues through December 30th at The Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State Street (map). Tickets are $35-$79, and are available by phone (800-745-3000) or online at TheChicagoTheatre.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at achristmasstorythemusical.com. (Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes, which includes one intermission)
All photos by Carol Rosegg
Gene Weygandt (Jean Shepard); Nick Gaswirth (Foley Artist, Ensemble); Clarke Hallum (Ralphie); Rachel Bay Jones (Mother); Matthew Lewis (Randy); John Bolton (Father); Jake Bennett Seigfried (Schwartz); Nicholas Daniel Gonzalez (Flick); Drea Gordon (Esther Jane); Casey Gorab (Mary Beth); Charlie Plummer (Scut Farkus); John Francis Babbo (Grover Dill, Goggles Kid); Sally Elting (Little Nancy, Ensemble); Johnny Rabe (Insistent Boy, Ensemble); Emily Rudolph (Waitress, Ensemble); Karen Mason (Miss Shields, Ensemble); Alex Puette (Fantasy Villain, Delivery Man, Ensemble); Jonathan Burke (Delivery Man, Fireman, Ensemble); George Andrew Wolff (Policeman, Ensemble); Adam Pelty (Doctor, Santa Claus, Ensemble); Kirsten Wyatt (Nurse, Chief Elf, Ensemble); Marguerite Willbanks (Flick’s Mother, Ensemble); Andrew Cristi (Chief Elf, Waiter, Ensemble); Leslie Henstock, Lyn Philistine (Ensemble); Carl Kimbrough (Ralphie u/s, child swing); Sean McKnight, Mara Newbery (adult swings, dance captains); Kayla Rea, J.D. Rodriguez (child swings);
behind the scenes
John Rando (director); Ian Eisendrath (musical supervision); Cynthia Kortman Westphal (conductor); Walt Spangler (scenic design); Elizabeth Hope Clancy (costumes); Howell Bindley (lighting); Ken Travis (sound design); Larry Blank (orchestrations); Glen Kelly (dance music arrangements); Stephanie Klapper (casting); Warren Carlyle (choreography); James Gray (asst. choreographer); Tripp Phillips (prod. stage manager); Amy Gornet (stage manager); Jason Hindelang (asst. stage manager); Tom Watson (Hair and Wig Design); Justin Paul (vocal arrangements); Talitha Fehr (music coordinator); Fred Gallo (tech supervisor); Carol Rosegg (photos)