Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
I treasured this Jean Shepard story when I first heard it on the radio and then when I saw the 1983 MGM movie. I was raised in the early 1940s in Ohio near the Indiana border and it reminds me of my youth and growing up. It's a pure heartwarming Midwestern story that is not as overly gushy as some Christmas shows that are playing.
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score is charming and beguiling, and they carry the show along to boost us from scene to scene. The score works hand in hand with the book by Joseph Robinette and Matt Lenz' direction to make for a gratifying musical.
A Christmas Story, The Musical is narrated by Jean Shepherd (played by Chris Carsten) and is about 9-year-old Ralphie (Dylan Boyd, alternating with Myles Moore), stand in for the young Shepherd. Ralphie has to struggle with playground tormenters, a mother (Susannah Jones) who is always washing dirty mouths with soap, and a father (Christopher Swan) who is forever grappling with the boiler in the basement and more concerned with winning a contest than anything else. The Old Man wins a prize which is an impishly unique lamp shaped like a female leg with fishnet stockings. Ralphie desperately wants a Red Ryder BB rifle and he even dreams that he is a hero in the cowboy scene. However, his parents worry that a toy like that is dangerous and everyone constantly tells him that "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out."
Dylan Boyd is delightful as the young Ralphie. He gives a pitch-perfect performance and has full bodied vocal cords, especially with Joshua Turchin, who plays Ralphie's younger brother Randy, in their duet "Before the Old Man Comes Home." Christopher Swan and Susannah Jones give enjoyable performances as the boys' parents. Christopher Swan skillfully marks a delicate balance of snippiness and caring. Susannah Jones is wonderful and has thematic resonance in her renditions of "What a Mother Does" and "Just Like That." Avital Asuleen excellently performs as the overdramatic schoolteacher. Chris Carsten, in a non-singing role, splendidly plays Jean Shepherd the narrator.
Then there are the rest of the kids, and all I can say is they are fantastic. These kids supply a great deal of dynamism as well as talent: they sing, they dance, they act, and they are fun to watch, especially in the 1930s gangsters-and-molls speakeasy dream straight out of a Warner Bros. film of the 1930s. Very young Seth Judice is highlighted and he does some fancy footwork that is absolutely tremendous. The choreography by Warren Carlyle is handsomely energizing in these scenes.
A Christmas Story, The Musical plays through December 13th, 2015, at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco For tickets call 888-746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com. For more information on the tour, visit achristmasstoryontour.com.