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.
Stop 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.
The 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.
Leading 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 elkhartcivictheatre.org.