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Packing Raleigh Memorial Auditorium to near capacity, North Carolina Theatre, Broadway Series South, and Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy opened their weeklong run of A Christmas Story: The Musical with a bang, and kept a full house laughing and applauding for over two hours. The show is based on the movie A Christmas Story. It starts out with the slimmest of frames ever witnessed by this reviewer on which to hang a show full of songs: the efforts of a nine year old boy, Ralphie, to obtain for himself the "Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun with a Compass in the Stock and a thing that tells time." We are left with the impression that this is a commercial Christmas Story, as a truckload of obstacles gets in Ralphie's way, and he begins to despair of ever getting his Christmas wish. But things begin to improve greatly as the production progresses.
A whopping twenty-three songs fills this show with lyrics and dance, and a superb cast includes a nine-member kids' chorus, who sings and dances with the best of them, even outshining their own older cast members. The entire show is told from Ralphie's point of view; from the "present" of 1975 to the "past" of 1940, Radio showman Jean Shepherd (Gene Weygandt) tells us that this is the story of Ralphie (Clarke Hallum), actually himself at age 9 in Homeland, IN.
The entire tale is narrated by Shepherd, as Ralphie and his brother Randy (Matthew Lewis) work their way from Dec. 1, 1940, to Christmas Day, and all the trials and tribulations they and their Mother (Rachel Bay Jones) and father, "The Old Man" (John Bolton), encounter along the way.
The show is provided music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, with book by Joseph Robinette. It is loosely based upon a story by Jean Shepherd titled "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash." The entire presentation is directed by John Rando.
There is comedy aplenty throughout the show, but the best feature of this production is the ever-moving and intricately-woven tapestry of "Neighbors, Shoppers, Parents, Students, Elves, Townspeople, and Others" that fills the stage for this show. As The Old Man battles the neighbors' ferocious hounds, the ever-failing furnace, and the job he must go to every day, Mother Parker continues to go about her work of caring for the children and husband that she loves ("What a Mother Does"). Ralphie knows he has no chance of getting Mom to agree to a BB gun ("You'll Shoot Your Eye Out"), but he works diligently to try and get his dad to see the necessity of it, "for protection" ("Ralphie to the Rescue").
Showstoppers filled Act 1, to a greater degree than act 2, which worked hard to show is that, despite the commerciality, the real story of Christmas is the family unit, that stays together even under the most bizarre of circumstances, such as Christmas Dinner in a Chinese Restaurant. But getting to that point is all the fun, as The Old Man wins "A Major Award" for getting a contest entry correct; it turns out to be a hideous lamp, but Dad is super-proud, nonetheless. Mother is less than proud, and "accidentally" breaks the lamp on Christmas Eve, releasing the possibility that there may be no Christmas this year, at all. The Old Man gives a whale of a performance near the end of Act 1 as he exuberantly sings "A Major Award" and rings down the house with a stylish flourish.
What A Christmas Story actually tells us, after all the fanfare, lunacy, and hi-jinx, is that, no matter what you get for Christmas, it's the family that makes Christmas Day. The entire cast sums it up with the act 2 finale, "A Christmas Story," as the Parkers share a quiet Christmas evening around the tree. Ralphie has battled bullies, a drunken Santa, wicked elves, and Circumstances Beyond His Control in his quest to get what he wants for Christmas. In a show that is whoppingly large and completely tongue-in-cheek, music and a grand cast make this Christmas Story a real hoot of a show, and a fine way to usher in December. Bring the kids, because the younger set makes a real mark for itself in the song-and-dance. A Christmas Story redeems itself as the commercialism falls away, and the true meaning of Christmas shows underneath. 'Tis a grand night for singing with A Christmas Story, the Musical.
The show continues through 12/4. For details, see the sidebar.