Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

A Christmas Story, The Musical
Arizona Broadway Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Anthony Rapp in Concert, A Very Hairy Javelina Holiday, and Anything You Hear and Only Half of What You See


David Johnson, Tristan Klaphake, Andy Meyers,
Corban Adams, and Carolyn McPhee

Photo by Scott Samplin / Arizona Broadway Theatre
When the quirky film A Christmas Story was released in 1983 it didn't exactly set box office records, grossing less than $20 million. It disappeared into virtual obscurity until being rediscovered via home video and cable TV airings. It has now become a holiday classic, beloved by many for its humorous and nostalgic look at the holidays and simple family life circa 1940. The musical adaptation, which is based on radio humorist Jean Shepherd's comical and endearing stories of being a boy in Indiana in the 1940s, made its Broadway debut a few years ago to great acclaim, receiving several Tony nominations including ones for Best Musical and Best Score. Arizona Broadway Theatre presents the region premiere of this funny and warm-hearted musical in a well-cast and smartly directed production.

Like the movie, the musical follows the plight of young Ralphie and his quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. The story also focuses on his traditional middle-class family. It is a beautiful, sweet, charming, touching and comical story of a family of four and the various things they do to get by and to survive another holiday season. The stage adaptation brings to life many of the iconic comical scenes and phrases from the movie. The touching identifiable story and funny moments are what have made the movie a classic.

Joseph Robinette wrote the book for the musical, and the music and lyrics are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Pasek and Paul followed their score for this show with several others, including Dogfight, James and the Giant Peach, and their most recent, Dear Evan Hansen, which opens on Broadway this week. They have quickly become a musical theatre writing duo with much potential. While their score for this show isn't completely successful, there are several toe-tapping numbers that will most likely stick in your head for weeks, as well as some sweet ballads for Ralphie's mother that perfectly demonstrate the important role she plays in keeping this family together.

Robinette's book adheres close to the plot of the film. It also includes a substantial amount of narration for the actor playing Jean Shepherd which helps to move the plot forward. However, in the Broadway production the character of Shepherd wasn’t always incorporated into the show, serving more as an on-looker to the events in his past. Here, director Stephen Casey finds ways to increase his presence and weaves the Shepherd character into the action throughout which helps to make him feel more a part of Ralphie's plight to get his rifle as well as an extended member of Ralphie's family. These added moments help make Shepherd feel less like an outsider to the events happening in front of him which is a huge benefit. The book doesn't eliminate or sanitize the edgier moments in the story and this production doesn't soften those PG-13 rated lines or scenes.

The ABT cast is quite good, including a group of children who alternate performances as Ralphie, his brother Randy, and the kids at their school. Tristan Klaphake does a very good job as Ralphie. The pained expression he constantly has on his face to display a mixture of fear and desperation and the feeling that nothing ever seems to go right for him is perfect. He has a sweet, full and pure singing voice which excels on his many songs. It is a winning performance of a determined young man we can root for. Corban Adams is equally good and very funny as his little brother Randy. However, both boys, as well as some of the other young actors in the cast, could stand to use a little more direction in how to appropriately react when they are on stage but aren't the focus at that specific moment.

The main adult actors deliver strong performances led by Andy Meyers who is endearing, heartwarming and full of charm as Jean Shepherd with an appropriate amount of fondness and nostalgia in his narration. As Ralphie's parents, David Johnson and Carolyn McPhee deliver engaging and loveable performances. Johnson has the right balance of frustration and love beneath the constantly frustrated yet caring father and husband, and McPhee's warm, smooth voice and calming presence is exceptional in portraying this woman who is the glue that holds the family together. She also excels in her two solo songs. As Ralphie's teacher Miss Shields, Alyssa McGuigan's powerful belt brings down the house in the lively "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out" production number.

ABT's creative elements are superb, with the combination of Douglas Clarke's exceptional two-story house set, Lottie Dixon's colorful period appropriate costumes, and Heather Reynolds' lighting creating some beautiful stage images. Joshua Tobin's sound design is crisp and clear, ensuring every word is perfectly heard and he also includes some very fun sound effects at key moments. Casey's choreography is fun and lively with good use of the large youth ensemble in the many fantasy scenes plus a rousing tap number led by McGuigan and a big production number that features about a dozen leg lamps featuring Johnson.

A Christmas Story, The Musical captures just about every humorous, odd ball, and touching moment from the film of Ralphie and his family's Christmas story in a comical and heartwarming style. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production has a winning cast and features superb creative elements. For the holiday season, their lobby is decked out with beautiful holiday decorations and their excellent dinner menu features some holiday-themed drinks and dishes. The combination of the beautiful lobby décor, the always great ABT food, and this charming show is an excellent way to kick off and celebrate the holiday season. A Christmas Story, The Musical will most likely put a big smile on your face from start to finish.

A Christmas Story, The Musical runs through December 28th, 2016, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at www.azbroadway.org or by calling 623 776-8400.

Originating Author: Jean Shepherd
Motion Picture Director/Co-Screenwriter: Benjamin "Bob" Clark
Book: Joe Robinette
Lyrics/Music: Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
Stage Direction and Choreography:Stephen Casey
Music Direction: W. Brent Sawyer
Set Design: Douglas Clarke
Costume Design: Lottie Dixon
Wig/Makeup Design: Amanda Gran
Sound Design: Joshua Tobin
Lighting Design: Heather Reynolds
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting and Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake

Cast:
Jean Shepherd/Narrator: Andy Meyers
Ralphie: Tristan Klaphake / Easton Dana
The Old Man: David Johnson
Mother: Carolyn McPhee
Miss Shields: Alyssa McGuigan
Randy*: Corban Adams/ Cyrus Hilding
Ensemble: Chanel Bragg, Michelle Chin, Ian Connor, Marty Craft, Trey DeGroodt, Barret Harper, Emily Rhein, Bonnie Beus Romney, Meggie Siegrist, Phil Sloves
Kids ensemble*: Lyda Armistead, Sarah Astrowsky, Zachary Astrowsky, Kameron Cochrane, Evan Culbertson, Jacob Deal, Emma Domakeczna, Amy Fishencord, Sabrina Kiepke, Caelan Koth , Makayla Kovac, Kai Nunziato-Cruz, Kieran Klaphake, Jacob Shipley, Abbey Spanko, Zoey Waller, Callista Walker, Shannon Whitten *alternating


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