The holiday season has begun and Align Entertainment is on the ball, with its slick, fun-filled production of A Christmas Story: The Musical. Based on the classic 1983 film, the musical version features an excellent score by Dear Evan Hansen’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The stage version definitely succeeds in capturing the same quirky humour and sweet family-life sentiment as the film. Align Entertainment has put a lot of hard work into this show – and the quality of this production sparkles like Christmas lights.
The story is told through the eyes of Jean Shepherd, a radio host in the 1960s who reminisces about one particular Christmas from his childhood – the year he wanted a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. As Shepherd recalls the events of that year, we see his memories unfold before our eyes. The setting is 1940s suburban America, and nine-year-old Ralphie is letting everyone know – including his parents, his teacher Miss Shields, and the Santa at the local mall – about his Christmas wish.
Ralphie is a bit on the imaginative side, and he and his family are fun to watch. He has a sweet, stay-at-home mother, and a loud opinionated father who is referred to in the show as “The Old Man”. Ralphie also has a cute little brother, Randy, who follows Ralphie along on his adventures. And adventures are plentiful for Ralphie, as he and his best buds Schwartz and Flick struggle to survive on a daily basis against school bully Scut Farkas and his sidekick Dill.
As Ralphie, young Owen Scott does an outstanding job carrying the show. His characterization and singing are spot on, and you really feel you’re with him as he experiences his ups and downs throughout the story. As his older counterpart, Jean Shepherd (I don’t know why his name is different), Trent Glukler is a delightful narrator. You can see him revelling in every success his younger self has, and reacting with despair at every pothole along the way.
Stefanie Stanley is brilliant in the role of “Mother”. Her caring, loving persona not only puts her stage family at ease, but also extends to the audience as well. You feel so comforted by Stanley’s beautiful voice and calm, logical demeanour in this role, such as in her solo, “What a Mother does”. Stanley is also the perfect counterpart to Brenna Cuff’s boisterous, stubborn “The Old Man”. Cuff is hilarious, but also displays a sweet vulnerable side – such as his yearning for recognition in his solo “The Genius on Cleveland Street”.
The film version really lends itself well to being presented as a stage musical, given all the “daydream” moments that Ralphie has. And these daydreams make for fabulous, over-the-top musical numbers. The ensemble is a ton of fun to watch in this show, including a number of super-talented kids. Choreographer Melissa Turpin has done a stellar job with the huge amount of choreography involved with this show, and has really used some great creativity.
Some group number highlights include the “Ralphie to the Rescue” western-themed montage, and the glitzy, 1920’s-style tap number “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out”, featuring the dynamite Amanda Russel as Ralphie’s teacher, Miss Shields.
Russel is often the culprit in the show’s daydream scenes, using her awesome comedic skills to abruptly switch us from reality, to absurd cartoonish scenarios. She’s also a fantastic triple threat. Her characterization as Miss Shields – in all of Ralphie’s versions of her – is so en pointe; her singing is fantastic, and so are her tap dance skills.
I’m very impressed with the creative design team of Conor Moore (sets), Maureen Robertson (costumes) and Michael K. Hewitt (lighting). Moore’s sets does an outstanding job of transporting us to 1940’s America during the holidays. His concepts of the Santa house at the mall, storefront window, and family car, and of course the central setting of the show – the two-story family home, are just a few of the clever and slickly-delivered sets on display in the show. There are no complicated scene changes either. Director Chad Matchette has ensured the show maintains a nice, continual rhythm, and Moore’s sets float in and out as if we’re flipping through a story book.
Robertson’s 1940s era costumes are impressively detailed and spot on. Hewitt’s lighting helps to compliment the lovely visuals we’re treated to. Musical director Caitlin Hayes has done a nice job piecing together the large array of vocals sung by the cast, and orchestra director James Bryson expertly leads the 12-piece band.
And despite the 1940s era setting, the stage version of A Christmas Story has been refined to eliminate the political incorrectness of the film’s Chinese restaurant scene – audiences familiar with the film wouldn’t have to cringe and hold their breath when the scene begins, and will also enjoy a little inside joke.
Align Entertainment’s production of A Christmas Story exudes the spirit of the holidays, and is a great showcase of musical theatre talent and theatrical expertise. The scale of this production is quite ambitious, and Matchette and his team have done a fine job bringing this story to life in full colour. What a wonderful way to start the holiday season!
Align Entertainment’s A Christmas Story: The Musical runs until November 17 at the Michael J. Fox Theatre in Burnaby. For more information, visit Align Entertainment’s website.