At The Stanley until December 27, 2015
Posted November 13, 2015
Santa, a Remembrance Day poppy stuck in his bright red suit, seems to arrive on the scene earlier each year. The Arts Club kicks the holiday season off with A Christmas Story: The Musical. With a whole bunch of singing, dancing kids (and adults) on stage, no nudity and nary a cussword, this is clean, rollicking family entertainment.
So beloved is this story about Ralphie Parker (Valin Shinyei) and his ardent desire for a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun for Christmas, there are various TV movie marathons running continuously from 8 PM Christmas Eve through Christmas day.
Many audiences arrive at the Stanley, knowing everything about Ralphie, his brother Randy (Glen Gordon), his mother (Meghan Gardiner) and his father (Matt Palmer). It’s as warm and cozy as polar fleece pjs.
Interesting sidebar: three of the short stories by Jean Shepherd from which A Christmas Story is cobbled together were originally published in Playboy magazine between 1964 and 1966. Obviously, some filmmakers got beyond the centerfold to find gold in them thar pages.
The film came out in 1983 followed by the stage adaptation in 2000. A Christmas Story: The Musical, with book by Joseph Robinette, music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, opened on Broadway in 2012 after a couple of smaller productions elsewhere.
Amir Ofek sets the stage with snow falling on a scrim and frosty trees stage left and right. His sets include the Parker’s 1940s kitchen and living room, the classroom of Miss Shields (Sara-Jeanne Hosie) and Higbee’s Department Store where the kids of fictitious Hohman, Indiana go to sit on Santa’s knee. With Santa’s elves, a Christmas tree all a-twinkle with lights and a roast turkey just out of the oven, it’s enough to boot the Bah! Humbug right out of you.
The youngsters are amazing, beginning with 14-year-old Shinyei, full of confidence and looking like a real pro, who kicks the show off with “Counting Down to Christmas”. It’s a huge role for anyone and he’s going to be doing this night after night – and some matinees – until December 27. The bios of these young performers are already impressive but you have to love the bio of twelve-year-old Cameron Andres (who plays Ralphie’s friend Schwartz); he writes he’s a “competitive gymnast, classical violinist, perennial nerd and (currently) a professional wimp.”
Cherubic Gordon has already developed comedic chops; the scene in which he struggles to get up while wearing an overstuffed snowsuit proves it. In his every scene, he’s this sweet, adorable, chubby kid brother.
The ensemble numbers with everyone singing and dancing showcase all the hard work that goes into producing a routine that looks easy (but isn’t) and a lot of fun (which it probably is.)
Palmer, as Ralphie’s father, always brings a special kind of attractive sexy/sour quality to the stage while Gardiner, as Ralphie’s mother, is mostly sweetness and light in this show until her character has had it up to here. Gardiner is always note perfect and her articulation is amazing. It might be tough in 2015 to swallow “What A Mother Does” but it pays to remember the play is set in 1940. It’s also difficult not to raise eyebrows over the gift of a gun – albeit a toy – to a child. Again, it was the 40s.
Hosie, in a red lamé dress, brings the house down – as she has done in many, many shows before this one, with “You’ll shoot Your Eye Out”.
A memory play, A Christmas Story has a narrator (Duff MacDonald) who is grown-up Ralphie looking back on that memorable Christmas. It’s a low-key but important role that keeps the story together.
Musical director Danny Balkwill and his band provide the music for almost twenty songs.
Director/choreographer Valerie Easton brings together a very talented cast but, without a doubt, the overwhelming favourite is four legged and furry. You can’t pay a critter enough to bring the house down like it did on opening night and it’s going to do that right through the holiday season. Deck the halls and fa-la-la-la-la!