REVIEW WRITTEN BY CHRISTINA PERRYMAN
The classic film “A Christmas Story” is a tradition for many families. Now, audiences have the opportunity to see the musical version on stage at Walnut Street Theatre, excellently directed by James Rocco.
“A Christmas Story, The Musical,” book by Joseph Rabinette, has music and lyrics by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek. The musical is based on the popular 1983 movie of the same name, written by Jean Shepherd and “based on his semi-autobiographical writings.” The production runs through Jan. 10. For tickets and more informtion, check www.walnutstreettheatre.org.
The story takes place in 1940s Indiana, where nine year old Ralphie Parker has one desperate Christmas wish; he wants a Red Ryder BB gun. But with a month to go until the big day, Ralphie finds his quest for the coveted toy blocked at every angle. From disapproving adults (even Santa tells him he’ll shoot his eye out) to the school bully to a triple-dog-dare to a crazy leg lamp and even crazier dogs next door, Ralphie meets obstacle after obstacle, with hilarious outcomes.
I have a confession to make – I have never actually seen “A Christmas Story” all the way through. Sure, I am familiar with many of the main plot points and catch phrases (“You’ll shoot your eye out,” Flick sticking his tongue on the frozen pole, those infamous pajamas), but it’s not a tradition for me and my kids. We are more of a “Christmas Vacation” family. Therefore, going into the show, I had no expectations in terms of comparing the musical to the movie. I can now say “A Christmas Story” will be joining our annual holiday show repertoire. Walnut’s production, a Philadelphia debut, is a comical, heartwarming story with a spectacular cast, perfect for the season.
The show is narrated by the incomparable Bill Van Horn. Van Horn exuded all the excitement, disappointment and hope Ralphie felt as he told the story. Van Horn perfectly mirrored his young counterpart, Craig Mulhern, Jr. (Ralphie), giving voice to Ralphie’s inner dialog in a funny yet touching way. Mulhern was outstanding. His singing was top notch. Mulhern, who plays Ralphie during the weekday shows, was animated and enthusiastic. He truly captured Ralphie’s hope and despair as his BB guns dreams soared and fell.
Lyn Philistine and Christopher Sutton are terrific as Mother and The Old Man. Sutton is wonderful at physical comedy and his blustering string of nonsense swear words was humorous. Philistine quietly ran the house and helped her family with grace. Colin Jeffery’s Randy is delightful.
Ellie Mooney is marvelous as Miss Shields and Fran Prisco’s grumpy Santa is very funny. Oliver and Sammy are the lovable Bumpus Hounds. The weekday children’s ensemble of Lexi Gwynn, Jillian Henderson, Rachel McVey, Portia Murphy, Noah Scher, Gabrielle Schnoener and Nick Williams were adorable, as were Jacob Wilner (Schwartz), Josiah Jacoby (Flick), Anthony Flamminio (Scut) and Aidan Brito (Grover).
The music, nicely directed by Douglass G. Lutz, who also leads an impressive live orchestra, includes many funny and touching tunes. The high energy songs include “Ralphie to the Rescue!” “What a Mother Does,” “Up on Santa’s Lap,” and “Before The Old Man Comes Home.” The choreography, by Linda Goodrich, was terrific, particularly “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” and “Ralphie to the Rescue!”
J Branson’s whimsical set immediately caught the eye with a colorful gift tag border. The main set was outstanding, very detailed. Mary Folino’s costumes were great, from the cowboy get ups to the flapper dresses. Branson and Folino did a wonderful job taking the audience into Ralphie’s imagination.
If you are a fan of the movie, I’m sure there are differences — but Walnut’s quality production of this classic is a delight.