BWW Reviews: A CHRISTMAS STORY Is a Family Crowd-Pleaser
There's no question that A Christmas Story is a beloved classic. The 30 year old film gets plenty of airtime on cable channels during the holiday season, and it's inspired two stage adaptations, one musical and one non-musical. But as much as I love the 1983 film A Christmas Story and have always considered it to be a perfect family film, my opinion of the film lessens ever so slightly with every stage version that I see of it. That's not to say that the stage versions are bad. On the contrary, they're often somehow superior to the film, as is the case with Zach Theatre's hysterical and incredibly enjoyable production.
The play, written by Philip Grecian and based on the 1983 film, follows the misadventures of young Ralphie Parker and his quest to receive an elaborate and elusive B.B. Gun for Christmas. Director Dave Steakley easily brings the witty, light-hearted script to life. Every joke is received with roars of laughter, a true testament to Grecian's script, Steakley's direction, and the incredible talent of the cast. Michelle Ney's revolving snow globe inspired set is beautiful, whimsical, and imaginative, and Susan Branch Towne's costumes, particularly a near replica of some iconic costumes from The Wizard of Oz, are surprising and wonderfully add to the comedic tone of the play.
As Ralphie, Keaton Brandt is sensational. It certainly helps that Brandt's facial expressions are eerily similar to those of Peter Billingsley who played Ralphie in the film, but Brandt brings even more to the table. His comedic timing is exceptional, and his determination and stubbornness in his pursuit of the perfect Christmas present is entirely believable. William May is a scene-stealer as Ralphie's kid brother, Randy. May hams it up and chews the scenery with his exaggerated performance, and you can't help but love him. Jordan Elsass proves to be another crowd favorite as Flick, Ralphie's wimpy and often bullied friend, and Abby Roland is adorably cute as Esther Jane, one of Ralphie's classmates who happens to have a massive crush on him.
While the kids are certainly the most memorable, the adult cast members are excellent as well. As Older Ralphie, Marco Perella is fantastically fun to watch. He's more than just a narrator. He doesn't just retell his childhood. He relives it and savors each glorious moment. Meredith McCall is perfectly cast as Ralphie's Mother. McCall plays the role as loving and nurturing but strong, allowing Ralphie's Mother to be more than just a stock housewife character. Lara Wright is wonderful in her trio of roles of Ralphie's schoolteacher, a department store elf, and the mother of one of Ralphie's pals. She's terrific and hysterical in all three of the eccentric roles. But of the adult cast, Chris Gibson is a true stand-out as Ralphie's Old Man. Gibson's Old Man is sometimes just as exuberant as the kids around him. In certain moments, like when he beams with excitement at the thought of picking out the perfect turkey or another in which he eagerly tosses aside the packaging around his major award, you realize that Ralphie's B.B. Gun-chasing apple doesn't fall far from the leg-lamp loving tree.
With A Christmas Story, the Zach Theatre gives Austin a delightfully funny family show. It isn't simply as good as the film. It's even better. Just try not to like this show. Go ahead. I triple dog dare you.
Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
A CHRISTMAS STORY plays Zach's Topfer Theatre at 1510 Toomey Rd, Austin, Texas, today 12/28 at 7:30pm and tomorrow 12/29 at 2:30pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are $40-$90. For tickets and information, visit www.zachtheatre.org
Zach's next production, IN THE NEXT ROOM OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY, plays Zach's Topfer Theatre January 29th - February 23rd. Tickets are on sale now.