BWW Reviews: A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL Redefines The Ghost of Christmas Past
Based on the iconic 1983 film, and adapted by acclaimed librettist Joseph Robinette this version is heavy on well-crafted exposition. Most audience members, being familiar with the film, know what's coming, and that group dynamic--as in the case of most beloved holiday season traditions--makes this sleigh ride all the more fun!
Served up with generous dollops of nostalgic, tongue-in-cheek Americana, this tale rests on the bittersweet inner workings of a perfectly imperfect depression-era family wintering through the last innocent, pre-WWII yuletide.
Though I wasn't around in the 40's, I'm old enough to remember a time when America's working class had a far more solid foothold in our country, and that alone made this portrayal tug at my heartstrings.
Thanks to the sensibilities of director Matt Lenz, this show moves with high energy and snowball-style momentum, delivering a tour de force of guaranteed crowd pleasers at every turn--trained dogs, splashy, over-the-top dance numbers,(coreography by Warren Carlyle), nonstop costume changes, (designed by Elizabeth Hope Clancy and adapted for the tour by Lisa Zinni) and an impressive ensemble full of talented kids. As with most musicals, some characters serve as foils or devices, while others are have more dimension. That said, each performer in this highly-skilled cast exudes a memorable charisma and inhabits his or her role in earnest. This well-cast tale, told in a retrospective universal "I" (the wiser adult explaining how the world looked through his youthful eyes) speaks to all of our idiosyncrasies, loyalties, dreams and delusions.
Due to the demands of Ralphie's role, two veteran child actors (Colton Maurer and Evan Gray) perform on alternate evenings. (I happened to see Colton Maurer. Bravo!) Ralphie's parents are played by Chrisopher Swan and Susannah Jones, who delivers an exceedingly poignant and believable performance.
The tangential momentum of this yarn requires a never-ending transition in mood and setting. Walt Spangler's scenic designs (adapted for the tour by Michael Carnahan) transport us without fail, enhanced in no small part by exquisite lighting design (created by Howell Binkley and adapted for the tour by Charlie Morrison.)
My only misgiving about this particular musical is that, while it delivers several clever showstoppers (most notably "Ralphie to the Rescue" and "A Major Award" - about the leg lamp), it never reaches a musical zenith. Just as most great plays have a signature monologue, most great musicals have a signature song, but nothing in this show made the grade. (I didn't walk out humming a tune, or with any desire to buy the sheet music or soundtrack.)
That said, if you're looking for a fresh holiday outing that will delight all ages, look no further. Not sappy, cynical or shamelessly commercialized, A Christmas Story, The Musical makes for delightfully wholesome family fare.
A Christmas Story, The Musical runs through November 30 at The Memphis Orpheum, 203 South Main Street. For more information call (901) 525-3000 or visit The Memphis Orpheum website.