Review: ‘A Christmas Story: The Musical’ at The Media Theatre

A Christmas Story: The Musical was a breath of fresh air when it debuted on Broadway four seasons ago. Based on the 1983 movie that’s become a television perennial, it retained a great deal of the movie’s humor and heart while adding a bunch of catchy, clever songs. Now the Media Theatre has mounted its own version of A Christmas Story, and it’s a fine way to kick off the holiday season.

The cast of "A Christmas Story" at The Media Theatre. Photo courtesy of The Media Theatre.

The cast of ‘A Christmas Story’ at The Media Theatre. Photo courtesy of The Media Theatre.

The score by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek is terrific. Tunes like “It All Comes Down to Christmas” and “Ralphie to the Rescue” are melodic and memorable, while the lyrics deftly reveal insights about the characters, from the taunting and terrors of the playground to a mother’s concern for her children. Joseph Robinette’s book captures the spirit of Jean Shepherd, the humorist whose childhood reminiscences inspired the movie: like Shepherd’s work, the script is nostalgic but with a candid, earthy underbelly.

For the hero, nine-year-old Ralphie Parker, life in Indiana circa 1940 isn’t as idyllic as it might look. Young Ralphie has to struggle with playground bullies, a teacher who doesn’t recognize his genius, a profanity-spouting father infuriated by a malfunctioning basement furnace, and a mother who literally washes his mouth out with soap.

And as Christmas approaches, Ralphie only wants one present: a BB gun. Too bad that mentioning the gun prompts the same response from every adult: “You’ll shoot your eye out.” It’s tough being a kid in the world of A Christmas Story, but the anticipation of Santa’s visit makes it all worthwhile, even if disaster is always seemingly just around the corner.

Dann Dunn’s production has a dash of holiday sweetness without ever getting overly sentimental. And Dunn has choreographed some splashy numbers that avoid seeming overblown.

Jennie Eisenhower shines as the mom every kid would want – stern but forgiving, with a sly, knowing smile and a tendency to roll her eyes at every ridiculous pronouncement her husband makes. Her beautifully-sung solos “What a Mother Does” and “Just Like That,” which give the show a welcome touch of compassion and humanity, are among the show’s highlights.

Patrick Ludt, as Ralphie’s father, is a jovial presence on numbers like “The Genius on Cleveland Street.” But he never seems blustery or agitated enough to be intimidating. We’re supposed to believe his kids are afraid of his wrath, but Ludt seems like he’d never hurt a fly.

Kelly Briggs is genial as the narrator, and Krissy Fraelich has a series of outlandish turns as Ralphie’s schoolteacher.

The Media Theatre’s production alternates between two casts in the main children’s roles. Ben Pedersen, who played Ralphie at the performance I attended, is extremely winning: he has big glasses, a big smile, and a very big voice. (Tim Woodward alternates in the role.) Aidan Crane is radiant as little brother Randy (alternating with Jacob Shapiro), while Jared Brito and Aidan Brito are appropriately menacing as a pair of schoolyard bullies (Andrew Rubin and Carter Weiss are the alternates).

Ralphie (Ben Pedersen) opens his Christmas gift while little brother Randy (Aidan Crane) watches. Photo courtesy of Media Theatre.

Ralphie (Ben Pedersen) opens his Christmas gift while little brother Randy (Aidan Crane) watches. Photo courtesy of Media Theatre.

Kyle Brylczyk’s set design is dominated by fluffy white walls that are supposed to represent snowbanks. They’re fine for outdoor scenes, but they don’t seem appropriate for scenes set in a classroom or a restaurant.

Jennifer Povish has provided a series of outlandish costumes for the ensemble, everything from cowboys to elves to, in “A Major Award,” a series of cut-off trousers that have to be seen to be believed!

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, including an intermission.

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A Christmas Story, The Musical plays through January 8, 2017 at the Media Theatre – 104 East State Street, in Media, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (610) 891-0100, or purchase them online.

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