Music Adds To Tale Of Holiday Wish

Ho! Ho! Ho!

There’s a new (?) entry in the “if it’s Christmas it must be …” category of plays, movies and TV shows that resurface annually between Turkey Day and Holly Time..

Joining Dickens’ ghostly “Christmas Carol” and the is-he-or-isn’t-he Santa search in “Miracle on 34th Street” — plus the many lesser incarnations featuring elves, reindeer and talking toys — is one that enters the musical theatre genre by way of the printed word and the silver screen.

“A Christmas Story: The Musical,” opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House and offered area audiences an excellent way to begin the 2017 holiday season.

The Elkhart Civic Theatre cast is a blend of adults and young people delivering the wry humor of author Jean Shepherd (a Hoosier himself) in a well-wrapped package definitely meant to be opened before the Big Day.

Those who, like myself, have at least one TV tuned in 24/7 for the annual Christmas Eve/Day marathon of the 1966 movie might think “Oh well, I’ve seen it before” and, faced with a full holiday season, be inclined to cross the musical off the Xmas to-do list.

A Christmas SAtory the musical Elkhart Civic Theatre Bistol INStop before you make that mark and take it from me — there’s nothing like a live performance to make even the most familiar seem new again.

The opening night audience held a majority of flower-laden friends and relatives. Familial connections aside, it is a completely enjoyable two hours (including intermission) from the overture to the full-cast finale.

There is always at least apprehension when the major character — as well as the many of the ensemble singers and dancers — is primarily pre-teen.

No worries here.

The center of the action is Eddie Bell as the ever-hopeful Ralphie Parker. He takes center stage with the aplomb of a seasoned performer, sings well and with authority, handling Ralphie’s moves from wimp in real life to heroic fantasy, always plotting to achieve his Christmas goal — “A Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model air rifle with a compass and sundial in the stock.” Bell may not have Peter Billingsley’s big blue eyes but he has a large share of theatrical charisma and the audience is with him every step of the way.

A Christmas Story the musical Elkhart Civic Theatre Brisstol INThe same is true for his Hoosier family. Younger brother Randy (Liam Riggs), Mother (Kristen Kinder) and The Old Man (Brock Butler) all earn high marks for their recreation of the familiar characters, with Kinder especially touching as the mom who keeps balance in the family. Her solos hit home with every mom in the crowd.

Butler, as the hard-working, short-tempered dad whose realizes a dream with his “major award,” does double duty here as hard-working director of the production.

Ralphie’s friends Flick (Cameron Lancaster), recipient of the dreaded “triple dog dare,” and Schwartz (Landon Dean), the object of Ralphie’s self-saving accusation, are at home in their roles as are the “bad guys,” Joshua Hatfield as the universal bully Scut Farkus and Skye Steury as his willing toady Grover Dill.

Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields (Bethany Wirick) steps out of the classroom to demonstrate another side to the constant warning “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.”

The hard-working ensemble is called on to adopt many personas of all ages: Christmas shoppers, students, Santa’s elves and participants in Ralphie’s fantasies. They do it all with ease and enthusiasm, singing and dancing, including tap, no matter what their characters or situations.

A Christmas Story the musical  Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INLeading the way is a Narrator (Cecil Eastman), a senior version of the young protagonist. He is on hand throughout, describing each scene and frequently offering comments on the various incidents, people and relationships that make up this story..

The Parkers’ house, which definitely carries a Hoosier feel, was designed by ECT artistic/technical director John Shoup who also designed and created the many backdrops.

The 1940s aura is continued nostalgically in the fantasy movie posters by scenic artist Jeffrey Barrick.costuming and the costuming by Linda Weisinger and Dawn Blessing. (I could swear I saw one of my coats from a long ago winter in New Jersey!)

Butler’s co-director, whose dog jumps in for the neighboring “Bumpus hounds,” is April Sellers. Jacob DeLong is choreographer, with tap steps by Kellie MacGowan.

The music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul underscore the time and feeling of the work and are just what the book by Joseph Robinette requires.

Vocal direction is by Heidi Ferris who also plays keyboard for music director/drummer Mark Swensden as does Miriam Houck and guitarist Tyler Crisp.

All hit the bullseye wthout shooting your eye out!!

“A CHRISTMAS STORY: The Musical” is taking the Thanksgiving weekend off but will be home again Dec. 1-3 and 8-10. For information and reservations, call (574) 848-4116 or visit

Lewis' Comedy Precedes Stand-Up

It’s not often that the author of a play generates as much or more interest than the play itself, but when that author is best known as a standup comic, and the play is his solo effort, I guess it is natural.

It also might have some bearing on the sell-out crowds attending the South Bend Civic Theatre production of “One Slight Hitch.”

The playwright is Lewis Black, the perennially panicked perpetrator of rants against the disintegration of the world with emphasis on the U.S. government.

If the hope that one of these is incorporated in the plot of “One Slight Hitch,” first know that it was written several decades ago (before solo comedy won out) and could have been one of the deciding factors in Black’s turning to outrage.

It is a two-act comedy/farce complete with many slamming doors and characters in underwear.

First about the doors.

On e Slighy Hitch  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe show is in the Barbara K. Warner Studio Theatre which means that all four sides of the playing area are/can be open. The set in any farce worth its hysteria must contain at least three or four solidly-built, frequently-slammable doors. Not easy to design or build with little to hold on to.

Fortunately, SBCT has a talented artist as set designer/builder/painter for this production. Jeff Barrick’s multiple doors, while rather bland in hue, are solid enough to withstand numerous vigorous slams without even a slight tremor and obviously are a salute to theatrical engineering.

Set in a family home in a suburb of Cincinnati, the décor also bears out one character’s comment that “Ohio is the valium of the Midwest.”

The family in question is made up of a dad, “Doc” Coleman (Brad Mazick), and mom, Delia (Marybeth Saunders), and daughters PB (Karla Levy), a teenager most frequently connected to her Walkman; Melanie (Christine Schrader), a nurse and alcoholic-in –training; and Courtney (Kimberlee Giles), a successful writer and the bride-to-be.

On e Slight Hitch  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs the action begins Doc and Delia are counting down her “to-do” list for Courtney’s wedding to wealthy psychology student Harper (Tyler Miller), a list which is driving Delia to distraction as the nuptials are to be held at home in a matter of hours.

Into the increasing maelstrom of pre-wedding activities comes Ryan (Bill Svelmoe), a recovering hippie and would-be writer as well as Courtney’s former boyfriend of 2 ½ years from NYC.

Ryan knows nothing about the wedding. He is hitchhiking across the country and just stopped in to say hello. His reaction to the news that Delia, who left him only a few months ago after making it clear that she never wanted to marry, is about to tie the knot adds to the total confusion. Especially since his primary post-shower costume is a bath towel.

Everyone has his/her opinion on just which man should be the bridegroom and there is a final curtain (or blackout) wedding, but getting there takes much too long.

Possibly this is because the characters are solidly one-dimensional and the script cannot decide whether it wants to be a full-out farce or a comedic message play (see Delia’s Act 2 shift from screamer to caring mother).

Audience seniors will enjoy the familiar ‘80s music shared by good natured PB whose “bottom of the family totem pole” status is obvious even before Delia issues the first of an unending list of her pre-wedding chores .

By the time Courtney makes up her mind, it’s difficult to really care.

The pace is set by director Richard Baxter with costumes by Tania Balve. Tried to remember if they were “period perfect” for the ‘80s but only wound up wondering why Courtney wore the wedding gown.

You might figure it out for yourself if there are any tickets left. The show reportedly is a sellout.

“ONE SLIGHT HITCH” plays through Sunday in the South Bend Civic Warner Studio Theatre. For information and reservations, call (574) 234-1112.