“A Christmas Story: The Musical” is yet another of those modern musicals created by taking a pop culture story with proven appeal — in this case a 1983 comedy film — and adding newly written some songs and dance numbers to it. However, as brought to life by director Malindi Fickle and a talented cast at Diamond Head Theatre it is also beautifully balanced Christmas season entertainment — equal parts sentiment and satire, warmth and cynicism, reality and fantasy. To borrow a thought from Fickle’s director’s notes in the playbill it is a story about relationships, love, family and overcoming obstacles.
It is also more about the real life experiences of growing up than about snide har-de-har-har comedy.
The year is 1940. The place is a small town in Indiana. Ralphie Parker is nine years old and convinced that his life will not be complete unless he gets a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun for Christmas. His mother says absolutely not — “You’ll shoot your eye out” — and so, with only 24 days ‘till Christmas, Ralphie searches desperately for a way to change her mind. Maybe a “what I want for Christmas” essay written for a school assignment will impress the teacher so much that in addition to giving him an A+ for his writing she’ll call his parents and tell them he deserves a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun.
DHT has a multi-faceted young talent in Mati Durkin (Ralphie). Durkin gives a winning performance as a sincerely good-hearted boy dealing with the challenges posed by school, a competitive younger brother, the neighborhood bullies and his overwhelming desire for a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun. Three adults fill in key roles around him.
Matthew Pederson (The Old Man) makes a very welcome return to the stage as Ralphie’s harried, tightly wound but optimistic father. Pederson was last seen starring opposite Guy Merola in DHT’s 2001 production “Chess.” That show emphasized Pederson’s strength as a actor and singer. This time around Pederson has a pair of big song-and-dance numbers that spotlight his dancing too. It is a great comeback performance.
Jennifer Cleve Sojot (Mother) kicks up her heels alongside Pederson and the ensemble in “A Major Award” but makes her biggest contributions with her beautifully wrought delivery of the two songs that give the show its emotional warmth.
Susan Hawes (Miss Shields) figures prominently in two fantasy numbers. In the first, Ralphie imagines rescuing his teacher from a silent movie-style villain — using his Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun, of course. In the second, he is kidnapped by gangsters and held prisoner in a speakeasy where Miss Shields is the star entertainer. Hawes’s departure from the speakeasy scene adds a final bit of “umph” to the number.
Cody Long (Randy) makes his acting debut a memorable one with his energetic performance as Ralphie’s younger brother. Dennis Proulx adds an adult’s perspective to Ralphie’s campaign with his commentary as Jean Shepherd, the author and narrator of the story.
“A Christmas Story: The Musical,” based on the motion picture “A Christmas Story.” Book by Joseph Robinette, music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; directed by Malindi Fickle; choreography by Christine Yasunaga; musical direction by Matthew Mazzella; set design by Willie Sabel; costumes by Karen G. Wolfe; lighting by Dawn Oshima; prop design by Christina Sutrov; sound design by Kerri Yoneda; hair and make-up by Lisa Ponce De Leon Terai. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes.
With: Mati Durkin (Ralphie), Susan Hawes (Miss Shields), Cody Long (Randy), Matthew Pederson (The Old Man), Dennis Proulx (Jean Shepherd/Narrator) and Jennifer Cleve Sojot (Mother).
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