Review: ‘A Christmas Story, The Musical’ at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts

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Riverside Center for the Performing Arts presents A Christmas Story, The Musical, with Book by Joseph Robinette and Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Based on the 1983 Warner Bros. beloved film, Pierre-Jacque Brault directs and choreographs this nostalgic hit.

Mitchell Austin, Marcus Dowd, and Sheri Hayden.

Mitchell Austin, Marcus Dowd, and Sheri Hayden.

Much of this recent Broadway musical version stays loyal to the classic film about a boy’s desperate quest to receive the Christmas gift he so badly wants: a Red Ryder BB gun. To the delight of those who grew up watching A Christmas Story every holiday season, they can recall the dialogue nearly  verbatim as the plot unfolds onstage, and costumer Gaye Law does a great job re-creating Ralphie and Randy’s iconic (and often outlandish) outfits.

Scenic Designer Nicolas Thornburg built a set that, while lovingly detailed, can be easily pulled apart and tucked away to make room for dance numbers. Lighting by Joe Thompson and Sound Design by Bethany Galyen help complete the atmosphere of a building holiday season. What really gives this story a fresh, festive twist are the song-and-dance numbers, with music performed by a live orchestra lead by Musical Director Walter “Bobby” McCoy. The music proves to be a great way to express Ralphie’s runaway imagination, and the accomplished instrumentalists (including Mila Weiss on reeds, flute, and piccolo, Paul Rawlins on trombone, Joanna Smith on bass, and Dave Wong/Timothy Wilson on percussion) do a fantastic job with the upbeat material.

Set in 1940’s Indiana, the story follows young Ralphie (Marcus Dowd, who shows a lot of talent) as he desperately tries to land the toy of his dreams weeks leading up to Christmas. Alan Hoffman narrates the story as Jean Shepherd, a radio personality who wanders unseen among the characters, providing witty commentary and insight as the plot unfolds. Bullied by his peers in the number “When You’re a Wimp,” Ralphie’s longing for this toy is emphasized through his heroic daydreams, shown in numbers like “Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun” and the Western-inspired “Ralphie to the Resue!” He yearns for bravery and confidence, and is convinced that a BB gun is the tool he needs to turn his fantasies into reality. Unfortunately for him, Ralphie also has a tendency of getting into trouble, highlighted in the number “Sticky Situation,” when he is involved in a “triple-dog-dare” that leaves an unfortunate tongue frozen to a flagpole. Ralphie keeps finding himself in situations that will for sure land him on the “naughty” list, weakening his chances for the coveted Red Ryder.

Sheri Hayden, Russell Rinker, Mitchell Austin, and Marcus Dowd. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi/The Free Lance-Star.

Sheri Hayden, Russell Rinker, Mitchell Austin, and Marcus Dowd. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi/The Free Lance-Star.

While the drive of the story is Ralphie’s passion for the “Holy Grail” of Christmas toys, the heart of it is his eccentric family. Russell Rinker is fantastic as Ralphie’s father, an easy-to-rise, hardworking man who spends most of his stage time unleashing streams of garbled profanity at their neighbor’s loud dogs. When Ralphie’s father wins “A Major Award,” he insists on displaying his (let’s say, tacky) prize for everyone to see, much to the dismay of his put-upon wife, played by Sheri Hayden. Hayden sings an emotional song called “What a Mother Does,” a rare soft number among a long list of bouncy toe-tappers. Finally, the young Mitchell Austin consistently steals every scene he is in as Ralphie’s younger brother Randy; whether refusing to eat his dinner or struggling under the weight of a heavy snowsuit, Randy is one adorable, humorous ball of incessant whine.

Whenever Ralphie brings up his Christmas wish to the adults around him, he is greeted with the same line, which happens to be the title of the best song-and-dance number of the production. “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” displays Ralphie’s latest fantasy; this time, he’s in a 1930’s Speakeasy, and his teacher Miss Shields (Vilma Gil, who shows off some stellar vocals) delivers this blow of a line after grading his essay on what he wanted for Christmas. The ensemble, made up of twelve adults and twelve children, tap-dance around a disappointed Ralphie, who  must think of a way to convince his parents (and Santa!) that he is responsible enough to own a BB gun. Will Ralphie find his Christmas gift waiting for him under the tree?

Expertly directed and cast and full of holiday cheer, Riverside Center for the Performing Arts production of A Christmas Story, The Musical  is a fun new way to enjoy an old favorite. Tickets for this show are going fast, so grab a few while you can!

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A Christmas Story plays through December 31, 2016 at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts– 95 Riverside Parkway, in Fredericksburg, VA. For tickets and reservations, call (540) 370-4300.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30-minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1553.gif

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