BWW Reviews: Tennessee Repertory Theatre's A CHRISTMAS STORY
In 1983 the movie A Christmas Story was released. The story of young Ralphie and his mission to get the BB gun he wants for Christmas wormed its way into "cult-classic" status and has become a staple in the home of many around the holidays. With a story so familiar and well-loved, one would think it might have difficult being translated to the stage. Not so. Tennessee Repertory Theatre's production of A Christmas Story is heartwarming and funny, with a slightly different take on the movie, but all the heart and joy that audience members have grown to love.
With fantastic direction by René Copeland, throughout the show audience members are introduced to a huge cast of characters played by only seven actors, all adults. Each actor switches costumes, roles, and ages so effortlessly and convincingly, that there were times I wasn't sure which actor was playing which role. Part of this was obviously due to some amazing costuming (designed by TrisH Clark) and scenic design (by Gary C. Hoff).
Scenic design was especially challenging as the story itself takes us so many places throughout the night. We visit Ralphie's home, his school, the department store, the Christmas tree lot, the playground. Each place felt authentic and honest, even though very little in the way of the actual set changed.
At the very beginning of the show, it's apparent that this won't be a typical show. Audience participation is very present in this show, but not in an uncomfortable, annoying way (as it can so often be). In fact, the show is made more "real" by this participation, pulling those who would normally be observing only, into Ralphie's childhood universe. Each time we pitched in our responses or helped out with sound effects and lines in the show, it was as if we were helping Ralph to tell the story of his childhood....the story of Ralphie.
Ralphie, played with great conviction and hilarity by Samuel Whited, is introduced to us first as an adult Ralph, and then as Ralphie as he tells his story. For some, the switching back and forth might have been difficulT. Whited makes the transitions from adult to child with ease. Each of the actors in the cast had the amazing ability to adapt quickly and convincingly, but some standouts for me were Jamie Farmer who played Mother (among other roles) and David Compton who played The Old Man (and other roles). Both actors were a laugh and incredible with their physical acting with each other and the other actors on stage.
Watching this family from the 1940s deal with Christmas in as normal a way as they possibly know how is a nostalgic trip to days gone by. You're taken on a trip with Ralphie as a young boy, his brother Randy who is truly the baby of the family, a frustrated housewife of a mother, and a father who is nothing if not entertaining in his attempt to be the "man" of the house. There are Christmas parades, trips to see Santa at the local department store, and an attempt to find the "perfect" Christmas tree at the Christmas tree lot.Throw in school bullies, contest winning, Christmas theme writing, and the neighbors dogs and you run into some of the most comical story-telling ever.
All the well-known and most loved scenes from the movie are present in the play, from the pink bunny suit to the beloved leg lamp. This makes the show comforting and funny for those who love the movie, but someone who has never seen the movie would still adore this show. A Christmas Story is a look into a real Christmas. A Christmas with faults and funnies, and one that is FAR from perfect, yet is perfect in its own way.
Tennessee Repertory Theatre has referred to A Christmas Story as "Nashville's All-American Holiday Tradition" and I truly hope it continues to be a tradition. The stage version of A Christmas Story, much like the movie, should be enjoyed each year for the holidays. A Christmas Story plays at Tennessee Repertory Theatre thru December 22nd. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 615-782-4040, or by visiting their website.
Photo credit: Britanie Knapp