Members of the cast of the Align Entertainment production of A Christmas Story: The Musical. Photo: Align Entertainment / Facebook.
From the snow-suited younger brother who can’t get off the ground, a trip to visit Santa at Higbee’s department store, to a triple-dog-dare involving a tongue and a flagpole, all of the well-loved anecdotes from the film make an appearance.
But while all these moments and more remain, special recognition has to go to director Chad Matchette who has cleverly edited one of this show’s most problematic scenes, that of the Chinese restaurant. Without wanting to give away just how Matchette does it, suffice to say it is a welcome relief to see this racist moment expertly excised.
And even while the show becomes slightly bloated with a couple of fantasy scenes that go on just a bit too long, A Christmas Story: The Musical is so filled with comfy nostalgia, you can’t help but be warmed by its embrace.
As with Align Entertainment’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 2016, much of the pleasures of this production comes from its young ensemble.
Leading the way is Owen Scott as the BB gun obsessed, Ralphie. Along with an impressive voice, Scott also manages to pay homage to Peter Billingsley, who played the now iconic role in the film, without resorting to any sort of impersonation.
The other younger players also impress.
One of the joys of Align Entertainment shows is in the sheer numbers they bring to the stage. Virtually impossible to do in a professional setting due to costs, here their numbers equate to an impressive sound. Choreographer Melissa Turpin once again puts them through their paces with some wonderful results.
Among the adults, Stefanie Stanley brings the heart of the show with a wonderfully understated role as Ralphie’s mother. She lends her beautiful voice to two of the most touching moments in the musical with “What A Mother Does” and “Just Like That”.
As the only professional on the stage, Brennan Cuff brings his baritone to the role of “The Old Man”. Perhaps missing some of the warmth behind this character’s gruffness than the role deserves, Cuff is a pure delight in the showstopper, “A Major Award”.
Other highlights include Amanda Russell as school teacher Mrs Shields, who performs in an impressive “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” with the younger ensemble.
Despite the talent, the show isn’t without its problems. On opening night there were noticeable gaps in the action, and actors didn’t always hit their marks in Michael Hewitt’s lighting design. There were also some sound issues, which is always problematic in a musical.
Conor Moore’s massive two-story interior set of the Parker family home is impressive. Given its sheer size it was amazing to watch it so easily move on-and-off the stage.
Costume designer Maureen Robertson has the unenviable task of clothing such a large cast, and she does with some mixed results.
The twelve piece orchestra under the baton of musical director James Bryson are top-notch. And while it is a bit unusual perhaps to highlight individuals, special mention has to go to this production’s brass section.
For those looking to get an early start on Christmas, you’ll definitely not find a better way to get you in the holiday spirit than A Christmas Story: The Musical.
A Christmas Story: The Musical with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and a book by Joseph Robinette. An Align Entertainment Inc production. On stage at the Michael J Fox Theatre (7373 Macpherson Ave, Burnaby) until November 17. Visit alignentertainment.ca for tickets and information.
Align Entertainment’s A Christmas Story is a heart-warming treat of musical theatre magic
November 4, 2018
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.
From left to right: Trent Glukler, Stefanie Stanley, Georgiy Rhatushnyak, and Owen Scott. Photo credit: Align Entertainment’s Facebook
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 reveling 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 demeanor 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”.
From left to right: Georgiy Rhatushnyak, Stefanie Stanley, Owen Scott, and Brennan Cuff. Photo credit: Emily Cooper
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.