Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Set in 1940s Indiana, the story centers around 9-year-old Ralphie Parker (Craig Mulhern Jr., with Liam Keenan in the role all Thursday matinees, Saturdays and Sundays) and his quest for a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun. With less than a month until Christmas, Ralphie is desperate to convince his Dad, Mom, teacher or at the very least Santa to put the BB gun under his tree. Ralphie imagines leaving his days as a wimpy kid behind and becoming a real hero, but the grown ups only admonish, "you'll shoot your eye out." Ralphie's old man (Christopher Sutton) has other things on his mind, too, scheming to win a major award through a mail-in crossword puzzle contest. Mulhern gives a strong vocal performance and he makes a charming Ralphie. Sutton gets big laughs for his larger than life portrayal of the Old Man, displaying spot-on timing as well as some great physical comedy.
The 1983 classic film is the inspiration for the musical, but the sinister edge that made the original so extraordinary does not make it to the stage. Director James Rocco plays down the dark moments in this production; schoolyard fights are soft and stylized, The Old Man is all bumbling goofball with no sense of desperation, Ralphie's mother (the very talented Lyn Philistine) delivers the moving "What a Mother Does" without a hint of frustration or bitterness, and even though it is December of 1940 there are no references to the hardships of the Great Depression. It may make the production more kid friendly, but those choices also make the characters feel flat and blunt the razor-sharp wit that is the hallmark of the film. A Christmas Story is undoubtedly smashing holiday entertainment, but there are definitely moments where I wish it could be something more.
The moments where the production really soars are in the big fantasy numbers "Ralphie to the Rescue!" and "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out." The ensemblechildren and adultsinfuse those numbers with a sense of vigor and exuberance that would melt the heart of even the grumpiest Grinch. The high energy choreography of Linda Goodrich is delightful. Mary Folino's costume designs are effective throughout, but they bring a special sense of luxury and glamor to those big numbers.
Ellie Mooney does a stellar job as Miss Shields, Ralphie's grade school teacher. Bill Van Horn takes on the difficult role of narrator Jean Shepherd amiably and delivers some of the funniest lines of the night. Special acknowledgment must also go to scenic designer J. Branson for the impressive set which instantly transports the audience into the warmth of a small suburban home at Christmas time.
A Christmas Story, The Musical runs through January 10th, 2015, on the Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. For tickets and information, call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787. Tickets are also available online 24/7 by visiting www.WalnutStreetTheatre.org.
Production And Design Staff
: Performs All Mon.-Fri. Eve., Plus Wed. Mats. 12/23 & 12/30, And Fri. Mat. 11/27
Weekday Team (Performs All Mon.-Fri. Eve., Plus Wed. Mats. 12/23 & 12/30, And Fri. Mat. 11/27)
Weekend Team (Performs All Thurs. Mats., Plus All Shows Sat. And Sun.)