The Rose Theater has a marvelous production of a seasonal favorite bound to delight everyone, young and old. I find it the classiest, most polished, professional-quality presentation I’ve seen there in the one year I’ve been attending. Of course, the company already has a winner in the script, a stage re-creation of Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story, the beloved 1983 movie. This comes decorated with jolly, colorful songs and dance numbers. They all sound and look great, thanks to music director Jerry Brabec’s skilled 11-member orchestra, playing Larry Blank’s original Broadway orchestrations, and inventive, lively choreography by Sue Gillespie Booton. Director Matthew Gutschick gets expert, well-timed performances from his entire cast amid Jeff Stander’s cartoonishly cute sets, including a period front curtain, supplemented by Kyle L. Toth’s beautifully-lit snowfalls.
For those who don’t know the screen source yet, the sweet, nostalgia-based story concerns nine-year old Ralphie, who, living in small industrial Indiana town in the early 1940s, dreams of getting a Red Ryder BB rifle with Christmas jingling on the near horizon,. His parents seem indifferent to his hopes. His father is more wrapped up in eagerly anticipating the arrival of a prize he won in a newspaper contest. When the bizarre item arrives, he proudly places it in a front window to the embarrassment of his wife. Among the other aspects of this family’s life are annoying neighbors with a potentially dangerous dog, Ralphie’s five year old brother Randy’s problems with winter clothing and a refusal to eat, local neighborhood bullies, a flat tire en route to purchase the Christmas tree as well as Ralphie’s repeating one of his father’s many swear words. And there’s an ill-fated visit to a not-at-all jolly department store Santa. All of this is narrated by Shepherd himself in the film and by various actors in this version. For more about Shepherd , you might find this interesting:http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0791789/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
The imaginative and special music and lyrics often seeming to match pop songs of the story’s time, are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, creators of others for a stage production of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach as well as for off-Broadway’s Dogfight (2012) plus some for NBC-TV’s Smash. More at: http://pasekandpaul.com/about/. Joseph Robinette, the writer of the book, also devised a musical take on E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. More about him at: http://www.dramaticpublishing.com/AuthorBio.php?titlelink=9793.
Robinette, Pasek and Paul came up with wonderful extensions from the movie, fantasy scenes, replete with goofy and glitzy hoofing, for example when Ralphie dreams of being a rifle-toting cowboy hero or when he rescues his teacher or friends from various perils. Sherri Geerdes has created excellent costumes for those episodes. There, as well as everywhere else, the 27 member cast sings and dances superbly, even including tap numbers and Rockette leg-kicks, sometimes with extra legs.
Dave Wingert, appropriately, a radio personality even as was Shepherd himself, narrates and participates in other decorative roles with sweet charm and skillful delivery of the often cleverly-worded narration. Danny Denenberg as Ralphie performs with non-stop expertise as actor, singer and dancer in every scene, carrying the full weight of the role as if it were merely a shiny snowflake on his shoulder. And Angela Jenson-Frey’s Mother consistently delivers all of her songs with a superb, memorable voice.
All these gifted people give us a sparkling, shimmering package to light up our days and nights.
A Christmas Story, the Musical continues through December 28 at The Rose Theater.2001 Farnam St. Fri: 7 p.m. Sat: 2 p.m. Sat, Dec.27: 7 p.m. Sun: 2 p.m. Tickets: $20-$25. http://www.rosetheater.org