‘A Christmas Story – The Musical’ at the Fisher

Photo by Don Ipock

Ralphie, played by Clarke Hallum, dreams of getting a Red Ryder Action Air Rifle BB Gun for Christmas in “A Christmas Story – The Musical.” The show, at the Fisher through Nov. 27, is similar to the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story,” based on the writings of Jean Shepherd.

By Sue Suchyta
If you love Jean Shepherd’s nostalgic holiday movie “A Christmas Story,” which came out in 1983, you’ll enjoy the musical version playing through Nov. 27 at the Fisher Theatre.

Tickets are on sale at the Fisher Theatre box office and all TicketMaster locations. For more information call (313) 872-1000 or go to www.BroadwayinDetroit.com.

Set in Indiana in 1940, the play closely follows the script of the movie with the addition of musical numbers.

The music and lyrics are written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, a musical theater writing team who are also both University of Michigan graduates.

The musical numbers are well sung and nicely choreographed, and the cast does a great job delivering the spirit of the show. However, one doesn’t leave the theater humming or singing one of the songs – they just aren’t that memorable. They are cookie-cutter songs in a production that already is a great story without the music.

However, the songs in which Ralphie fantasizes about saving the day with his dreamed-about and wished-for Red Ryder Action Air Rifle BB Gun are fun to watch. “Ralphie to the Rescue” in Act I and the song’s reprise in Act II are great showcases for the company, and they bring a child’s fantasies delightfully to life.

The occasional ballads – though sweet – are vehicles for the story line, and once the last note fades away, they similarly leave one’s memory.

Remember the opening numbers for “The Sound of Music” or “Fiddler on the Roof,” long Detroit favorites? Chances are a show like that blew you away, and are the reason you love the musical theater.

It is discouraging that risk-adverse Broadway investors are seldom willing to finance new and original Broadway productions. This year the Fisher has two upcoming musicals based on movies – “Shrek” and “Beauty and the Beast,” plus concert-based shows like “Green Day’s American Idiot,” “Million Dollar Quartet,” and “Rock of Ages.”

Such shows are popular and entertaining, but they make one wonder if the modern day Rogers and Hammerstein or Webber and Rice teams out there waiting to be discovered will ever make it to Broadway, let alone tour the Midwest.

It is fun to see a movie one loved on the silver screen come to life on the stage, and it’s easy to relate to the excitement one felt as a kid at Christmas. Most of us had our own ultimate gift – whether it was Ralphie’s Red Ryder Action Air Rifle BB Gun or the toy de jour, ranging from Barbies and Cabbage Patch dolls to Transformers and action figures.

Gene Weygandt plays Jean Shepherd, the adult voice who tells the story of his childhood. Unlike the movie, where there is merely a voiceover, the stage show has him off to the side at a desk in a radio studio watching his memories unfold.

In a fun touch, Nick Gaswirth, the Foley artist, does sound effects from the side of the stage opposite the Jean Shepherd character – much to the delight of the audience, who enjoyed the ingenuity in a pre-electronic keyboard era.

The kids in the cast are wonderful. Clark Hallum is a great Ralphie, performing both to his adult alter-ego’s voice and on his own, which requires a tremendous amount of skill to make it appear so effortless.

Likewise Matthew Lewis as his kid brother, Randy, is highly entertaining, whether he’s struggling in a straight-jacket snow suit, eating his supper while making piggy noises or just fulfilling the annoying younger sibling role so utterly convincingly and laughably.

Rachel Bay Jones is delightful and easy to love as the mother, and John Bolton is laugh-out-loud funny as The Old Man, Ralphie’s dad. Whether he’s battling the neighbor’s hounds, enraptured with his new prize leg lamp or coming up with creative euphemisms for the swear words he would prefer, he’s the All-American dad most of us had who would never be heard on Ozzie and Harriet.

The adult and child chorus is very busy. Kudos go to Adam Pelty for his long suffering Santa, Andrew Cristi and Kirsten Wyatt as his evil elves, and Andrew Cristi as the Chinese waiter serving the smiling duck and singing carols with an hysterical Chinese accent.

It is fun to see a favorite movie come to life on the stage. It would be great if the music added even more to the story, and sent us away singing one of our favorite new songs.

The next best thing, though, is to take a trip down memory lane to a happy holiday, in a simpler time, and to leave the theater in a happy haze.

For more information about “A Christmas Story – The Musical” go to www.aChristmasStoryTheMusical.com.

The Players Guild of Dearborn announced the cast for the Jessie Jones, Nicole Hope and Jamie Wooten comedy “Til Beth Do Us Part” last week. Robb Stempek of Livonia will direct the show.

Patrick Denyer of Dearborn will play Gibby Hayden, April Denny of Dearborn Heights will play Suzannah Hayden and Kori Bielaniec of Livonia will play the title role of Beth Bailey.

Also in the cast are Margaret Kinnell of Wayne as Margo James, Ron Williams of Redford as Hank Russell and Linda Trygg of Westland as Celia Carmichael.

The comedy will be performed for three weekends, Jan. 13 to 29 with 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday shows and 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees.

For more information call (313) 561-TKTS or go to www.playersguildofdearborn.org.