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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: A Christmas Story: The Musical is a holiday treat

Christmas has come early in this musical stage adaptation of the iconic film

Based on the 1983 movie which has become a television staple of the holiday season, the musical stage version of a young boy’s dream of the perfect Christmas gift (an “official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle”) hits all of its source material’s iconic moments.

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 for tickets and information.

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