Highly Recommended **** It’s that “time of year”, again! Once we enjoy our Turkey and family get together, we know that it is only 4 weeks until Christmas is here and all the theaters begin to bring in their holiday plays. So be it! This has become a tradition in the Chicago area with “A Christmas Carol”, “The Christmas Schooner”, “It’s A Wonderful Life” the radio show and a host of others. As reported here just last week, “A Christmas Story” is now onstage in Munster Indiana at The Theatre At The Center (where it has sort of become their holiday show) and now, the musical version has taken hold in Aurora at The Paramount Theatre. “A Christmas Story-The Musical” based on the film, “A Christmas Story” that has thrilled families for years and years, features a book by Joseph Robinette, which closely follows the movie and play version, and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The original musical version began its Pre-Broadway run in Seattle and our own Chicago Theatre (2012) before hitting The Great White Way, garnering some Tony Award nominations in 2013.
I recall seeing the original version and must say, as always, The Paramount staff truly understands how to do a musical better than the original group. Director Nick Bowling , who has recently spread his wings into the local musical theater area, once again shows his true heart and soul of making even a so-so musical a terrific entertainment value. He has put together a dynamite cast to bring this film to reality and while many around me made mention of the father, as played in the film by Darren McGavin (a memorable and solid performance), by the end of this production, they all were in love with Michael Accardo, who never imitated McGavin, but rather created his own version of “The Old Man”. Playing “Mother” another incredible Chicago talent, Danni Smith, who is loveable and has a great voice. Little brother Randy is well played by the adorable Theo Moss, and Ralphie is played to perfection by Michael Harp. He will make you care about the character as you have never done before and when he does his big “Ralphie To The Rescue” number with a solid chorus of ensemble members, you will be hooked!
The songs in this show are cute and catchy, but of greater importance, they carry the show along and propel us from scene to scene. I doubt that anyone will be humming anything on the way home (maybe “Sticky Situation”), but you will be smiling and thinking back in time to your youth and growing up. Our story is narrated by Jean Shepherd, the author of the original story that this is based on, who as it turns out, is Ralphie (a superb performance by Philip Earl Johnson, who was brought in just for this role- welcome to Chicago!). Other outstanding cast members are Ericka Mac as Miss Sheilds (her powerful dance number will astound you- and Harp’s dancing skills are shown off as well), Mark David Kaplan (one of our areas solid character actors), Aaron Choi, Audrey Billings, Aubrey Adams, Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, Alanna Lovely, Matthew Keffer, Jillian Jocson, Jason Grimm, Jason Richards, Summer Naomi Smart, Erin McGrath, Holly Stauder and the always adorable Dana Tretta.
Then there are the kids-WOW! Schwartz (Matthew Uzarraga), Flick (Blake Barnickel, who does the tongue scene in the second aisle, near row L) Tyler Martin, Eloise Lushina, Samantha Erne, Michael DiLeo, Grier Burke, Cody Bolithon, Peyton Shaffer and Theo Moss. These kids supply a great deal of energy to this sterling production as well as talent- they sing, they dance, they act and are fun to watch. The music is live with an orchestra led by Tom Vendafreddo, who makes 15 musicians seem to be 30. The choreography by Rhett Guter is delightful and the entire technical part of the show is amazingly done; Set by Jeffrey D. Kmiec, costumes by Sally Dolembo, lighting by Jesse Klug, props by Sarah E. Ross and fight choreography by Matt Hawkins.
The story about a boy in a small town in Indiana, who wants only one thing for Christmas, The Red Ryder BB Rifle, that is being advertised everywhere is a perfect holiday story to share. Parents are worried that a toy like this is dangerous- “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out”. Hard to believe that the film was released back in 1983 and still draws attention every Holiday Season. Here is an opportunity to take those memories, go to Aurora and watch it come to life, LIVE with the added music and the heart and soul of a cast that truly wants to make your holiday season the brightest one you have experienced.
“A Christmas Story- The Musical” will continue at The Paramount Theatre located in Downtown Aurora at 23 E. Galena Street through January 3rd with performances as follows:
Wednesdays 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.Photo credit: Liz Lauren
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 1 and 5:30 p.m.
December 17th will be a signed performance for the hearing impaired. Running time Two Hours and ten minutes including an intermission.
Tickets range from $41-$56 and are available at the box office, by phone at 630-896-6666 or online at www.ParamountAurora.com
Valet parking is available and street parking and lots are plentiful. There are also lots of dining spots in this city that will welcome you with open arms.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “A Christmas Story-The Musical”