I suppose producers are not finding great ideas for musicals and so, why not take classic movies and convert them to live stage shows and then add some music to bring a new musical to the stage. There have been some successful new musicals based on movies in the past, so it is possible that lightning can strike again. Tonight, I was witness to e new musical version of a classic, almost cult-like story, “A Christmas Story” that is THE biggest holiday movie of our time. The movie written by Jean Shepherd,Leigh Brown and Bob Clark, based on the book “In God We Trust,All Others Pay Cash” by Jean Shepherd, tells us the story of a family in a small town in Indiana and that one particular Christmas for Ralphie as told by Jean Shepherd ( played to perfection by Chicago favorite Gene Weygandt, who of course is the spirit of Ralphie. It is somewhat difficult to convert a powerful movie such as this into a musical, and although composers/lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have created some wonderful songs and writer Joseph Robinette has tweaked the story to make it into a musical, it still lacks the overall power of the film version.
This is of course a new vision and as they play before audiences, am sure they will find spots to clean and shave the product to make it sharper before they head into New York and Broadway.Most of the audience members were familiar with the movie and knew the story and where the laughs should be and under the direction of John Rando and the slick choreography of Warren Carlyle, this finely tuned cast does a reasonable job with the material they are given to work with. Walt Spangler’s set is unique but The Chicago Theatre ( which is limited in backstage and fly space) is not the right theater for this set. There are many areas of the theater where audience members can be distracted by stage hands appearing to move things or prepare for the next scene and on the sides, one can see actors preparing for their next entrance.
Setting this aside and concentrating on the show, this is a very energetic cast with some great vocal range and of course when a stage is filled with kids, in particular adorable and talented kids, a show will always be pleasing. This is one of those amazingly talented casts, led by Clarke Hallum as Ralphie ( what a talent) and the adorable Matthew Lewis as his little brother Randy. The other kids in the show, Sally Elting,Nicholas Daniel Gonzalez as Flick ( the boy who takes the “triple dang dare” to stick his tongue on the flagpole),Casey Gorab,Drea Gordon,Johnny Rabe,Charlie Plummer ( nasty Scut Farcas),Kayla Rea, Jake Bennett Siegfried and John Francis Babo have great range and are talented dancers. These are kids who take the stage a lot and handle it with true professionalism.
The adult cast, many local are very tealentd as well. Mr and Mrs Parker ( mom and dad) are played by John Bolton( it is very hard to erase the image of movie dad Darren McGavin) but he does come close to doing so and not by imitating, by creating his own personality and mom is played with a little different touch bythe beautiful Rachel Bay Jones. Schoolteacher,Miss Shileds isdeftly handled by the lovely and talented Karen Mason , who during Ralphie’s fantasies show us her true versatility and it always fun to see Adam Pelty on stage ( His Santa scen is just adorable).
There are some special numbers in this show that will keep you smiling and one of them involves “The Lamp” ( if you know the movie, you know the lamp” with a line dance that will have you in stitches.Of course there are several numbers that involve the famous “Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun”, Ralphie’s dream Christmas present. Will he get it? If he does, will he “shoot his eye out”? You can spend an enjoyable two plus hours learning how a family comes together despite the ups and downs and character quirks as the Holidays bring them together at The Chicago Theatre through the 30th of December with performances as follows:
Thursday, 12/15 at 3 and 7:30 p.m.,Friday the 16th at 7:30 p.m.,Saturday, the 17th at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.,Sunday 12/18 at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., Next week, Tuesday the 20th at 7:30 ,Wednesday the 21st at 3 and 7:30 p.m.,Thursday the 22nd at 7:30 p.m.,Friday the 23rd at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, the 24th Christmas Eve at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. NO EVENING PERFORMANCE. Christmas Day, NO PERFORMANCE and then on Monday, the 26th at 3 and 7:30 p.m.,Tuesday the 27th at 3 and 7:30 p.m.,Wednesday the 28th at 7:30 p.m., Thursday the same and Friday, the 30th at 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $35-$79 which makes the show family friendly on affordability and can be purchased at the theater box office, 175 N. State Street, by phone at 1-800-745-3000 or online at www.thechicagotheatre.com