Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of Seussical
In the last decade, a number of new Christmas or holiday musicals have been created and are now staples of the season across the country. Cincinnati and Dayton audiences have already seen the likes of White Christmas, Elf, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. So, it's quite the coup for La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro, Ohio, to get the regional premiere of what is possibly the best of the bunch: A Christmas Story. This solidly performed and presented mounting showcases a double dose of nostalgia that is sure to be a big crowd pleaser.
Following the 1983 film closely, A Christmas Story is the tale of young Ralphie Parker in 1940 as he tries to find a way to get a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun for Christmas. The movie is now a cult classic and plays on TV almost constantly during parts of December. Joseph Robinette has provided the book for the musical, adapting it faithfully from the movie written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark. All of the crazy antics of the screen version, including the leg lamp and pink bunny outfit, are present. On stage, the action is a bit too episodic, but the humor of the story and folksy narration (here by the now visible Jean Shepherd as part of his radio broadcast) come through effectively.
From song titles such as "A Major Award," "Sticky Situation" (chronicling the tongue to the flag pole incident), and "Up On Santa's Lap," you can see that songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have musicalized many of the movie's classic scenes. This adaptation also has a number of well-suited fantasy moments in songs such as "Ralphie to the Rescue," where he dreams of the heroics he can do with his new BB gun, and "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out," a tap dance number for his teacher Miss Shields and the ensemble. Ralphie's parents each are given first-rate songs to provide additional insight to their characters as well. The only criticism of the score is that they songs rarely advance the plot.
La Comedia's production is aptly directed and choreographed by Chris Beiser. He supplies a lot of effective action and movement, and the proper tone for the show. The humor of the piece comes through clearly, but is well balanced with the sentimental elements of the show without being sappy. The scene transitions could be more efficient, but that's often a challenge in the dinner theater setting, especially given the episodic nature of this musical. The dances, especially the fantasy numbers, are fun and visually appealing, and even the juvenile chorus is put to good use in executing the choreography.
As Ralphie, Matthew Hollon (who shares the leading role with Jackson Higgason) is vocally sufficient, and brings the necessary mix of earnest excitement and dry desperation to the character. Chris Kramer is perfect as The Old Man, skillfully spewing forth the gibberish placeholders for profanity and embodying the cantankerousness and cluelessness of the character to delightful results. He is a fine singer as well, giving some showbiz pizzazz to the jaunty "The Genius on Cleveland Street" and other numbers. La Comedia regular Karie-Lee Sutherland brings out the practical, matter-of-fact nature of Ralphie's mother, but also shows the character's tender side through her well-performed songs "What a Mother Does" and "Just Like That." Avi Gilbert, who alternates with Eric Petitt as younger brother Randy, sounds just like his film counterpart and does a great job with the comedic moments. Mark Reuter brings the needed warmth and well-spoken storytelling as narrator Jean Shepherd, and Holly Hathaway dances and sings up a storm as Miss Shields.
The impressive set design, which includes a handsome two-story house, appears to be provided by a committee of staff members, and is large, period and setting appropriate, and varied. The lighting design by Geoffrey D. Fishburn is theatrical and features a number of very well-rendered effects, especially for the fantasy moments. Costumes by A.T. Jones mirror those in the film and are attractive and fun.
From the media night audience, it's easy to see that A Christmas Story is a beloved film and theatergoers are delighted to see it on stage in a musical version. There truly is a double dose of nostalgiaone for the simpler and more innocent times conveyed the story, and the other for the memories we have of laughing at the movie year after year (including those times we channel surf and stop on the movie to see our favorite scene). La Comedia's production features effective direction, choreography, and design, as well as a well-suited and talented cast.
A Christmas Story continues at La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro, Ohio, through December 31, 2015. Call 1-800 677-9505 or visit www.lacomedia.com for additional information and tickets.