BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS STORY - THE MUSICAL At Cole Theatre, Waipuna Hotel, Auckland
Is there anything better than family and the anticipation of Christmas as December's end draws closer? That is the question we were delighted to answer at the opening night of 'A Christmas Story the Musical'. And it is a resounding "No". With all the negativity in the world at the moment it was lovely to have a night to sit back, relax and be transported to a time where childlike innocence and family values were paramount.Assisting with the transportation to the 1950's are the digital backdrops which depicted snowy Ohio Christmas days, a classroom and bursts of colour to indicate Santa's workshop or the decline of a Christmas wish and everything in between. The set pieces were used effectively to depict a cosy home or a classroom and innovative in Santa's workshop and in making a full kitchen/basement/bedroom come to life on stage. The set dressing in the kitchen was particularly impressive. The band, led ably by Musical Director Andrew Christie, were lively and distinctively "Christmassy" with both of my children bopping along vigorously from the opening note. The youngest even exclaiming "This is Santa music!".
The choreography- created by Jess Walker- was impressive, particularly in the tap scene but also noted in the cowboy-and-western style dance moves. There is truly a dance style for everyone in this show!
Maryanne Rushton's direction allows us an insight into life in a bygone era. It feels natural and true to the time and place. At times the ensemble vocal work was hard to hear but a particular highlight was "Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana" sung by Ralphie, Randy and the children. It is clear that Vocal Coach Robyn Kennerley has worked hard with these children, the vocal strength of the children and harmonies in this song were glorious. The costuming, designed by Dannielle Farrell was striking in the group dance numbers and the detail in making the era come to life was evident in the crowd scenes.A few opening night technical hitches with lighting and sound did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the cast. Lukas Maher as Ralphie Parker is a true triple threat- all singing, all dancing, all acting and cute to boot. He fills the role of Ralphie perfectly and you are easily drawn into the story by his excellent facial expressions and physicality. Little brother Randy- Liam Nightingale- played the role very sweetly and as a mother of two boys I could identify with both the sibling rivalry and sibling protection demonstrated by the brothers. Caitlin Penty and Josh Pinho made a great pair as Ralphie's parents - Pinho providing some great comic moments and Penty the quintessential 1950's housewife.
Sam Iosefo as Jean Shepherd narrates us through the story providing comedy and heart. In the cameo roles, Bridie Dixon stole the show in "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out" with her powerful belt and remarkable dance moves, and Sean MacFarlane was a hit with both my sons as a- shall we say- "overworked" Santa. Oliver Evans' "Flick" was a standout scene for me as for many others in the audience with audible guffaws at the predicament of having your tongue stuck to an icy flagpole- kudos to Evans at being able to sing afterwards as well! The ensemble cast filled many roles and their non-stop energy helped carry the show through to resounding applause at the end.
If you are looking for something to see, with a family feel which is distinctly Christmassy and peppered with talent then 'A Christmas Story the Musical' is an excellent choice- make an evening of it and have a picnic by the Panmure basin! Be quick though as shows are limited.
'A Christmas Story the Musical'
Cole Theatre, Waipuna Hotel
11-15 December 2019