It’s always a risky proposition to transform a beloved film into a musical, and for every Beetlejuice or Mean Girls success story, there’s a Ghost or Pretty Woman that just couldn’t muster the same passionate fan base as their movie counterparts.
A musical version of A Christmas Story, based on the cult holiday classic movie of the same name, came to Broadway in 2012 to lackluster reviews and interest, but the show has gone on to find love at theaters around the country as the more intimate stage is better suited for the story.
Toby’s Dinner Theatre is currently staging a production, and it’s clear that this show has a lot of humor and heart—something director Shawn Kettering is delivering plenty of thanks to his wonderful cast. (The show is double cast with either the Hebee or Jebee group of young actors, and I had the pleasure of seeing the latter!)
With a humorous book by Joseph Robinette, and amusing music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the team behind The Greatest Showman and Dear Evan Hansen, A Christmas Story is part heartwarming and part comedy—sort of like an episode of The Wonder Years. It even follows the same format of that show with a narrator (the endearing David Bosley-Reynolds) looking back nostalgically at a Christmas to remember.
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The musical is set in 1940s Indiana and follows the bespectacled Ralphie Parker, who tries hard to convince his parents, teacher and even Santa Claus himself that a Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model BB rifle with a compass in the stock is the perfect Christmas gift.The problem is, his parents are against it because they think—say it with me now—“you’ll shoot your eye out.”
John Poncy, in his professional debut, is pitch-perfect as Ralphie, thanks to an appealing voice and charming acting. He makes you believe that getting this gift is akin to a kid today unwrapping an iPhone 11 this Christmas. You never once question his desire and determination as he leads the talented ensemble in “It All Comes Down to Christmas” and “Ralphie to the Rescue.”
An adorable Patrick Ford plays younger brother Randy, who gets plenty of laughs with his eating style and the way he’s fitted into his winter coat—which harkens back to the movie and a favorite moment for most.
In fact, fans of the movie won’t leave disappointed, as the musical includes all the most memorable parts from the film including the infamous leg lamp, pink bunny PJ’s and a triple dog dare that creates quite a “sticky” situation.
Toby’s vet Jeffrey Shankle plays Ralphie’s dad, affectionately referred to as “the Old Man,” whose Act 1 showcase, “A Major Award” highlights the aforementioned lamp and lets the dad character be more than just a one-note, short-fused sitcom father.
As Ralphie’s mom, Heather Beck is extraordinary, bringing plenty of heart to the role as she keeps her family clothed, fed and happy, while never making a fuss. When Beck sings “What a Mother Does,” it’s poignant and adds so much more to the character than the film ever did.
Jessica Bennett is dynamic as Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields, whose powerhouse voice shines throughout—especially in “fictional” fantasies Ralphie has in imagining how he would use his new gun to protect her.
But it’s the young actors that really make it a treat. Jaxon Keller as bully Scut Farkus shines brightest, most notably for a show-stopping tap dance solo that’s star making.
A Christmas Story The Musical closes January 5, 2020. Details and tickets
Jezrael Agbor offers some nice comedy as Flick, who manages to sing “A Sticky Situation” solidly, despite being in the so-called predicament. And the rest of the ensemble, comprised of Sophia Manicone, Erin Cobbler, Carly Greaver, James LaManna, Jonathan Mackrell and Katharine Ford, exhibit some great harmonies and outstanding dancing, keeping the audience smiling throughout.
Choreographers Tina Marie DeSimone and Mark Minnick made use of this talented cast and had them tapping and kick-lining with the best of them in Toby’s unique theatre-in-the-round stage. The scenic design by David A. Hopkins and costumes by A. T. Jones captured the Christmas spirit and made you feel as if you were truly watching a day in the life of a kid circa 1940.
Toby’s A Christmas Story is joyous and will put a smile on your face. It’s is a perfect production to see this holiday season.