BWW Review: A Christmas Story at CMPAC is “A Major Award”
Every time I attend a production at CMPAC, I am always in awe as each and every production astonishes me. CMPAC is currently closing out their 2019 season with A Christmas Story: The Musical and I am happy to say no one "shot their eye out."
CMPAC goes all out with this production to sweep you back into 1940s Indiana. As soon as you walk into the theater, the lobby is beautifully decorated for the holidays and you immediately feel as if you are in the living room of the Parker house. The lobby is decked from roof to floor in Christmas lights and also features many of the film's iconic props including: a leg lamp, an official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, and the infamous "pink nightmare" bunny suit, which audience members can take pictures with.
It only got better, folks; as I made my way to my seat, I heard the fantastic pit orchestra tuning. While the orchestra was tuning, one of the trumpet players, Kevin Merkel or Elliot Wolk, began playing the opening bars of The Muppet Christmas Carol to warm up their embouchure. To whomever it was, thank you! As soon as I heard those opening notes, I was immediately in the holiday spirit and ready for a great time.
Overall, this production is great fun. The show is based on the 1983 Christmas classic shown every year for 24 hours straight and the book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, which were both written by humorist Jean Shepherd. The story centers on young Ralphie Parker who dreams and schemes to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Musical adaptations of films often do not live up to their original source material; I'm happy to say that is not the case with this production. John Robinette's book does successfully capture the heart and humor of the original text, as does the very charming, infectious score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Pasek and Paul are now known for their wonderful pop-infused scores (i.e. Dear Evan Hansen, The Greatest Showman, Smash: Season 2). With A Christmas Story, the show that started it all for them, Pasek & Paul use the show's time period as the main ingredient to their "melting pot of melodies"; from jazz/big band to Hollywood western. The music is just pure joy and at times moving. The brilliant leg lamp kick line during Carl Tese's show-stopping number "A Major Award" had me in hysterics. I was particularly moved by "Before the Old Man Comes Home" and "A Christmas Story"; two numbers in in Act II that really capture the true theme of this show: "Love and family are the greatest gifts any one could receive."
Once again Patrick Grossman does a great job bringing a classic film to life as both a director and set designer. Grossman managed to fully recreate the Parker House from the film incorporating all key set pieces, from the old radio to the damper for the furnace. The cast is led by the tour-de-force that is Max Lamberg as Ralphie. He is a star in the making that truly shines; He can act, he can sing and, man, can this kid tap dance. Carl Tese and Emily Nadler are both wonderful as Ralphie's parents, The Old Man and Mother; they truly capture the warmth, humor, and heart of these characters. Ashley Nicastro once again proves she is a force to be reckoned with as Ralphie's teacher, Miss Shields; she truly blows the audience away in the Bugsy Malone-esque number aptly called "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!" Katie Perpall was hilarious as Miss Schwartz; she leaves you wanting more. The ensemble of kids in this cast will have you smiling from ear to ear.
While there were many positives with this production, there were also a few negatives that can very easily be fixed; three to be exact. First, the sound at times was very muffled and staticky throughout the middle of Act II. During the opening number of Act II, it sounded like a microphone was placed next to a bowl of freshly poured Rice Krispies. Second, the number "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!" is a stand out number in the show and truly allows Lamberg to showcase his amazing tap -dancing skills. However, story-wise, it doesn't logically make sense to have Ralphie tap dance to a number that is supposed to be his nightmare. At this moment in the show, Ralphie gets a C+ on his Christmas theme and loses all hope of his teacher convincing his parents to get him that Red Ryder BB gun. He now daydreams that he's in a gangster like setting where his teacher and schoolmates sing a song exclaiming he'll never get that toy. Tap-dancing is often symbolized as happiness and this should not be a moment of happiness for Ralphie. Maybe give Ralphie a tap-break in "Ralphie to the Rescue"? Lastly, it's no spoiler that Ralphie does get his BB gun by the end of the show; if you didn't know that, than you truly are living under a rock. When Ralphie's dad presents him with the gift, it needs to be hidden. It was literally leaning against the kitchen set, not even gift-wrapped, giving the illusion that it was accidentally left there. At least hide it under the kitchen table. There needs to be an element of surprise here. This is the moment Ralphie and the audience has been waiting for.
Overall, A Christmas Story is "A Major Reward". It is a fun show that is perfect for the holidays and the family. I found myself smiling throughout the whole show, and I know you will be too.
You can purchase tickets for A Christmas Story here. CMPAC's 2020 season will include: All Shook Up, American Idiot, Holiday Inn and La Cage Aux Folles.