BWW Review: Ralphie Rides to the Rescue in A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL at Broadway On Tour
"You'll shoot your eye out, kid!" can mean one thing and one thing only. A Christmas Story, the Musical is on the first stop of its holiday tour here in Sacramento. Based on the 1983 movie, the musical boasts songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo responsible for Dear Evan Hansen and La La Land. This season, viewers are in for an extra treat as the Community Center Theatre undergoes its massive renovation. Broadway on Tour shows are being performed in the beautiful, historic Memorial Auditorium, which has itself just undergone updates, including acoustical improvements that have made the venue a contender in quality.
A Christmas Story, the Musical is born of the tales of real-life radio host Jean Shepherd, whose character narrates the vignettes in the musical. Sounding much like Shepherd (who actually narrated the movie) is Chris Carsten, who has toured with this production for six years. His radio-worthy voice brings us to 1940s Indiana with soothing tones that invoke a simpler time, a slower pace, and fond memories of when the most pressing issue in life was worrying about what you were getting for Christmas. The coveted Christmas gift is at the heart of the story, with Ralphie Parker setting his laser focus on the boyhood staple (and modern-day gasp-inducing) Red Ryder carbine-action bb gun. Ralphie is the 1940s every boy-worried about school, bullies, and getting word to Santa that no other gift will do. Opening night Ralphie was played by Ian Shaw, whose experience in the role serves him well to deliver a character that comes across as a likable underdog without encroaching into whiny territory. He proves himself immediately in "Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun" with impeccable crescendos and unabashed enthusiasm and keeps the momentum going all the way through to the hopeful "Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana."
Ralphie's parents, aptly named The Old Man and Mother, embody the stereotype of the hardworking Midwestern couple. Christopher Swan's middle-aged desperation for recognition evokes sympathy, particularly when he is gently corrected (often) by the secretly wiser Briana Gantsweg, who you just know could do so much better but are kind of glad she doesn't. The other adult in Ralphie's life is his teacher, Miss Shields, who, in Ralphie's daydreams, morphs into a tap-dancing diva who holds the fate of his Christmas gift in her hands. Lauren Kent's growly solo and tap-off with Ralphie's little brother, Randy (William Colin), was one of the most memorable performances of the show. That is saying a lot, because there are several standout moments. "A Major Award," "Sticky Situation," "Up on Santa's Lap," "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out," and "Ralphie to the Rescue" all bring the familiarity of the beloved movie and marry it with the music of the talented Pasek and Paul. The iconic leg lamp, tongue on the flagpole, crotchety Santa, and cowboy Ralphie will make you smile until your face hurts. Oh, and don't forget to watch your back-those Bumpus hounds might make an appearance.
I triple dog dare you to go see A Christmas Story, the Musical and leave not feeling inspired-it's impossible. The spirit of the holidays will seep into the most Bumpus of hearts and plant nostalgia for times gone by. The days are long but the years are short and, as Mother says, "...but it passes in an instant, passes by so fast. Don't forget to remember these moments never last."
The same goes for A Christmas Story, the Musical. It plays at Broadway on Tour in the Memorial Auditorium through November 17 only. Tickets start at $26 and are available now at the box office, 1419 H Street, Sacramento, or by calling (916) 557-1999; they are also available at the Memorial Auditorium Box Office, 1515 J Street, Sacramento, or by calling (916) 808-5181, or online at BroadwaySacramento.com.