With the exception of White Christmas, my tolerance for Christmas specific movies and musicals is dropping as the decades increase.
But as I walked out of the Arden Theatre on opening night of the Canadian premiere of A Christmas Story, I was smiling.
The St. Albert Children’s Theatre winter musical managed to sidestep the pack. Artistic director Janice Flower keeps it cute, kind of corny, very wholesome and definitely sentimental.
It has all the essentials of family-friendly seasonal entertainment, and it’s packed with heart – lots of it. Set in 1940 Indiana, it also takes us back to a simpler era when neighbours were just an open door away, and the parent-child relationship was less cluttered with external diversions.
Faithfully adhering to the slender plot of the classic 1983 MGM move, the Joseph Robinette adaptation restores every iconic moment in the Parker household.
The significance of nine-year-old Ralphie’s life is telescoped into four short weeks before Christmas as he strategizes to receive an official Red Ryder Range Model Carbine Action BB Gun, drops his first F-bomb and sheds his wimpy image pummelling school bullies.
Ralphie not only desires the gun, he craves it. “It’s not just a Christmas present. It’s a necessity,” is his paramount belief.
Flower received the rights after A Christmas Story debuted on Broadway two years ago. Designed strictly as a holiday seasonal show, it features a period-flavoured score with appealing lyrics and sparkly melodies by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, two of Broadway’s rising young composers.
This dynamic duo weaves Ralphie’s obsession into a virtual non-stop string of songs. There’s the kick-off It All Comes Down to Christmas, the cowboys and Indians fantasy sequence Ralphie to the Rescue, and You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out, a snappy gangster-and-moll number led by the vampy Mrs. Shields.
A parallel subplot is the victory Ralphie’s Old Man feels after winning a crossword puzzle contest. The big win is a life-size grotesque fishnet-stockinged leg lamp that creates conflict when the Old Man insists on displaying it in the front window.
Tying the zaniness together is The Narrator (Kelly Aisenstat), the only adult actor in the 36-member ensemble. The Narrator, now a radio host, looks back at his life through the lens of comedy. Aisenstat has some of the best lines in the musical and he delivers them with just the right twist.
Jillian Aisenstat as Ralphie deserves kudos for taking on the male role and creating such a realistic portrait of an imaginative young boy. Her brother, Max Aisenstat as the Old Man, has made a concerted attempt at growing into the fatherly role and displays robust vocal confidence singing A Major Award.
Loriana Caputo makes her mark as the tender and benevolent Mother, and she too displays smoky vocal chops in tailored ballads such as What a Mother Does.
Connor Woodley as Randy, Ralphie’s little brother, is a charming scene stealer and a tap line consisting of Nicole Pontikes, Heather Bit, Kirsten Throndson, Jade Simmons and anchored by the only male tapper Sage Jepson was crisp and entertaining.
A Christmas Story may be a tad kitschy, but there are a lot of relatable moments and it will make you feel right at home.
A Christmas Story, The Musical
St. Albert Children’s Theatre
Runs Nov. 29 to Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 to Dec 7