A CHRISTMAS STORY—THE MUSICAL
By Gary Murray
Starring Evan Gray, Chris Carsten, Christopher Swan, Savannah Jones and Cal Alexander
Book by Joseph Robinette
Music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Directed by Matt Lenz
A Christmas Story was a film from 1983 that got a very large second life on cable TV. Showing it for 24 hours straight on Christmas on basic cable has turned it into a holiday tradition. It has gone from an almost totally forgotten slice of nostalgia to one of the big 10 Christmas films of all time. Since nothing breeds success much like success, the movie has been turned into a Broadway musical. A Christmas Story, The Musical takes the boards of the holiday season at Fair Park for part of the Summer Musical Season.
The story is told as a radio program on Christmas. Our narrator Jean Shepherd (Chris Carsten) is reminiscing about his life and his father. The basic plot stays the same from the movie. Ralphie is a young kid who wants that perfect Christmas present, a Red Ryder B.B. gun. Every time it is mentioned, he’s told “You’ll shoot your eye out.” But, a boy’s wish is a boy’s wish and Ralphie wants that weapon.
The play is about dropping subtle hints to everyone about that ultimate present. In doing so, we meet Ralphie’s family. There is the loud, foul-mouthed The Old Man (Christopher Swan), the sweet stay-at-home mother (Susanna Jones) and little brother Randy (Cal Alexander). They live in a modest home in the middle of Middle America, Indiana.
More than that, it is about remembering your childhood and that innocent time before the world closes in. It is the end of the great the Depression and the time before WWII. It was a time of historical misery but for a young boy, it is a time of wonderment. In a year, the entire world will be in conflict and the psyche of the country where everyone is touched by death and conflict. But, it is about those last moments of innocence, those moments when having dad mad at you was the worst thing that could happen to you and mom was always there to be a family comfort and support. It is about the unique warmth that is home.
Ralphie has twenty-five days to the big day and has different schemes to get his message to the right people. There is a school essay he as to write entitled, ‘What I want for Christmas’ and of course seeing the Big Man himself—Santa. None of these plans work out as planned. He keeps hearing over and over, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
Added into the mix is life with the family. There his little brother who will only eat if he imitates the Three Little Pigs. But, it is trying to understand Dad that drives the play. He keeps trying to win crossword contests and one day gets a letter that he won ‘a major award’. It turns out to be a leg lamp. Under the direction of director Matt Lenz, it becomes a Busby Berkeley style musical.
For those expecting an exact representation of the movie, this is not for them. This is a musical and has many original songs and a few minor scenes that are excised. It is not an exact copy of the film.
Young Evan Gray gets so many moments to shine during the production. When he sings, “It All Comes Down to Christmas” one wonders how such a powerful voice can come from such a small source. The entire play hinges on this young performer and he does not disappoint. There should be a long and successful career for this very talented kid.
Another voice that strikes with the audience in a major way is that of Susannah Jones. She gets a moment in the Second Act with “Just Like That” and she hits the performance to the back walls of the Music Hall. It is the kind of performance that makes the audience wishing there were more solo moments with the actress. It is warm and melancholy all within the same phrases.
A Christmas Story, The Musical has an incredibly large cast full of adults and children. There is a big tap dance number in the Second Act where these junior league hoofers get to dance with their teacher. These kids show some major dance talents and a treated to a roar of applause by the audience.
The point of the story is honed to a very fine point. Ralphie finds out that his dad loves him and cares. That is truly the message behind A Christmas Story. Christmas isn’t about presents so much as it is behind the thought behind the gift, the gesture to show the right emotion.
There is rumor going around that A Christmas Story, The Musical is going to be a resident musical experience here in Dallas every year for the next decade or so. That could make it like The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show. No one could imagine a greater tradition to share with the family year after year. We can all hope it becomes that perfect Christmas present—like a Red Ryder B.B. gun.