Review: A Christmas Story, The Musical

4 star rating
A cast of adults and child actors re-create this well-known American Christmas tale, set largely in the 1940s, with commendable singing, energetic precision and considerable charm.
A Christmas Story, The Musical at Waterloo East Theatre

Image: Waterloo East Theatre



Closes here: Saturday 22 December 2018

Author:
Joseph Robinette

Composer:
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Lyricist:
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Director:
Gerald Armin

Cast:

Jean Shepherd (Narrator) - Garry Freer

Mother - Lucyelle Cliffe

Old Man - Simon Willmont

Miss Shields - Jenny Gayner

Ralphie - Felix Hepburn/ Rufus Kampa

Randy - Ethan Manwaring/ Harry Irving

Schwartz - Ethan Quinn/ Flynn Timberlake

Flick - Daniel Osei/ Evan Huntley-Robertson

Esther Jane - Alice Bonney/ Sofia - Elena Tait

Mary Beth - Amelia Ioannou/ Chloe Weir

Scut Farkus - Bradley Riches

Grover Dill - Alfie Turnbull/ Edward Flynn Haddon

Mrs Schwartz/ Dance Captain - Katy Stephens


Synopsis


A Christmas Story, The Musical with book by Joseph Robinette and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, is based on the movie classic that runs round-the-clock on US television every Christmas.


Set in the 1940s in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana, we follow young and bespectacled Ralphie Parker as he schemes his way toward the Christmas gift of his dreams, an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.


Rebuffed at every turn, Ralphie plots numerous schemes to achieve his desperate desire for the coveted BB gun.


With a delightful versatile score ranging from gentle ballads to show-stopping numbers A Christmas Story, The Musical will bring an exciting new dimension to those who have seen the movie and will certainly stand on its own for those who haven't. - A Christmas musical for all the family.


Background


From the songwriting team behind the smash-hit Tony Award-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen and the Academy Award-winning films La La Land and The Greatest Showman, - A Christmas Story, The Musical brings the classic perennial 1983 holiday movie to hilarious life on stage!


A Christmas Story, The Musical successful 2013 Broadway run garnered three Tony Award nominations including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (Joseph Robinette) and Best Original Score (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), along with six Drama Desk nominations, and two Outer Critics Circle nominations.


Benj Pasek & Justin Paul are Oscar, Grammy, Tony, and Golden Globe Award-winning songwriters best known for their work on Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land, and The Greatest Showman.


Their songs “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from La La Land (with collaborator Justin Hurwitz) were both nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and “City of Stars” garnered both the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture.


Pasek & Paul most recently won the 2018 Golden Globe for Best Original Song for “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman, which was also nominated for the 2018 Academy Award for Best Original Song.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Sunday 2 December 2018
Review star rating image

A Christmas Story is a 1983 film which has sufficiently captured the imagination of the American public that it gets played repeatedly on some US TV stations during the festive period.


This musical version is a spin-off of the film which seems to follow the same basic plot.


Garry Freer's Jean Shepherd acts as narrator, providing the essentials of the plot as if delivering a radio broadcast.


But though the narrator adds the background detail for the various scenes we witness, the basic storyline is acted-out on stage, describing the lead-up to Christmas for one small boy, called Ralphie, and his dreams of a special Christmas present - a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle.


For a 9 year old boy, that might not be the most suitable gift as many people point out during the course of events - "You'll shoot your eye out", they tell him.


The days of the 1940s might be long gone, but there's still plenty of relevance here for the audience - especially for children who should be able to instantly latch-on to the basic premise and Ralphie's efforts to implant his desired gift into the minds of his parents.


Along the way, we get to meet Ralphie's teacher and classmates, school bullies and even make a visit to a hard-drinking Santa in his store-based grotto.


At several junctures, we drift in and out of realistic and fantasy scenes where people step out of their normal characters.


One such moment gives free reign to Ralphie's teacher, Miss Shields (played with complete aplomb by Jenny Gayner) who performs a classy tap-dancing sequence where she's joined by many of the child actors, providing a notable high-point of the show.


The more realistic scenes also offer something of the unusually odd too.


Ralphie's 'Old Man' is fanatical about crossword competitions and enjoys an unusual win in the form of a strange lamp - strange, even for the 1940s.


Many of the actors here are very young, pre-teens in most cases, and all acquit themselves with precision and energetic charm, realising believable and endearing characters.


There's plenty to praise in the singing department - I especially liked a powerfully sung duet between brothers Ralphie and Randy (played on this occasion by an accomplished Felix Hepburn in the lead as Ralphie and Ethan Manwaring as his belligerent younger sibling).


And the company singing is resoundingly resonant, contrasting with some of the individual songs which provide more subtly sensitive moments.


Gerald Armin's worthy and fun production is not the kind of big glitzy musical you might find in the West End.


That's essentially because of the small-scale nature of the vehicle and its somewhat dour 1940's setting, but there's more than enough entertainment value here to make for a very watchable show.


Presented in Association with The British Theatre Academy, whose summer shows regularly gain top ratings, it's little wonder that the young actors display bags of confidence and considerable talent, in spite of their tender ages and they're well supported by the adult cast who ably stamp their authoritative presence on proceedings.


Some of these young people will no doubt go on to fill the ranks of West End musicals of the future - you may even see a future a star or two in this show and, on that count alone it's worth catching.


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