I am of the curmudgeonly opinion that not every cultural icon needs its own musical. So when I viewed Sunday's matinee performance of Woodford Theatre's production of A Christmas Story — The Musical, it was with one figurative, skeptical eyebrow raised. I would hate to see the oddball charm of the classic film milked for too much schtick.
Fortunately, Benj Basek's and Justin Paul's music and lyrics, combined with Joseph Robinette's book, result in a musical adaptation that brings its own charms to the tale while boldly deleting elements of the film that wouldn't play as well onstage.
Like the 1983 film, adapted from short stories of Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story — The Musical centers on young Ralphie and his dream of getting a Red Ryder BB gun (with carbine action and a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time). Various humorous obstacles get in his way ("You'll shoot your eye out!" his mother and teacher warn), all entertainingly detailed by narrator Ryan Briggs.
Directed by Vanessa Becker Weig, Woodford Theatre's version strikes just the right balance between evoking those classic moments from the film while deepening the fantasy aspect of the material. For example, The Old Man's (Patrick Lee Lucas) obsession with entering contests (which yields him the infamous "leg lamp" prize) is underscored by an entire musical number, The Genius on Cleveland Street. Likewise, each major character is allotted one or more numbers that provide more thorough insight than we see in the movie, such as Jennifer Roth Parr's tender rendition of What a Mother Does.
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Ralphie is double cast, with Mt. Washington Middle School student Jonah Brown and Meadowthorpe Elementary fifth-grader Alex Losch. In the show I saw, Brown performed admirably, striking the right notes of awkwardness, innocence, determination, defeat and wonder that audiences love so much about Ralphie.
Brown is joined by almost a dozen youngsters who form a large portion of the company. Kudos to Weig, who also choreographs the show, for bringing out the best in the young ensemble, whose dance numbers were often quite elaborate and entertaining. The tap dance numbers were a particularly pleasant surprise. If Brown and the gang were nervous, they didn't show it.
Some purists will note the absence of iconic film elements. There is no mention of Ovaltine, for instance. But that was a smart writing decision. Deleting some scenes from the film made room for audiences to learn more about the characters via the fantasy-driven musical numbers.
In keeping with Woodford Theatre's increasing standards of technical excellence, Mike Sanders' scenic design and Tony Hardin's lighting design smoothly complimented each another to create Ralphie's retro world. Placing the show's musicians on a platform, center-stage was an interesting and effective choice.
Overall, the show plays to our nostalgia while giving us fun, new insights into beloved characters.