A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE MUSICALBook by Joseph Robinette
Music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Dallas Summer Musicals
Directed by Matt Lenz
Musical Director – John Tarbet
Scenic Design – Michael Carnahan
Lighting Design – Charlie Morrison
Costume Design – Lisa Zinni
Sound Design – Ed Chapman
Choreographer – Warren Carlyle
CAST (for reviewed performance)
Jean Shepherd – Chris Carsten
Ralphie –Colton Maurer
Mother – Susannah Jones
Randy – Cal Alexander
The Old Man – Christopher Swan
The Bumpus Hounds – Hoss, Stella
Schwartz – Johnny Marx
Flick – Christian Dell’Edera
Esther Jane – Maria Knasel
Mary Beth – Lea Mancarella
Scut Farkus – Brandon Szep
Grover Dill – Seth Judice
Miss Shields – Avital Asuleen
Fantasy Villain – Andrew Berlin
Bank Manager – Evan Gray, Johnny Marx
Bank Robbers – Rico Lebron, Danny Wilfred
Prisoner – Rico Lebron
Can Can Girls – Tierney Lee Howard, Maria Knasel, Lea Mancarella
Delivery Men – Andrew Berlin, Max Thayer, Danny Wilfred
Policeman – Andrew Berlin
Fireman – Danny Wilfred
Doctor – Rico Lebron
Nurse – Deanna Ott
Flick’s Mother – Allison Maldonado
Mobster Tap Specialty – Seth Judice
Santa Claus – Andrew Berlin
Chief Elves – Deanna Ott, Danny Wilfred
Nancy – Tierney Lee Howard
Goggles Kid – Evan Gray
Waiter – Charles Pang
Waitress – Ellie Poon
Reviewed Performance: 12/3/2014
Reviewed by Kristy Blackmon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Dallas Summer Musicals’ current production of A Christmas Story: The Musical does not disappoint. The humor and poignancy of the film translates well to the Fair Park Music Hall stage, and it is full of remarkable visuals. The set, costumes and light design are based on the original Broadway production, and the tour designers execute the vision spectacularly.
Lisa Zinni’s costume design is spot on, almost exactly mirroring the movie. The character of Mother isn’t as frumpy as the film version, but otherwise Zinni remains faithful to the original vision. The children’s costumes are especially well done. When Randy is bundled up in the snowsuit that won’t allow him to put his arms down, it’s exactly as funny on stage as it is on the screen. And the costumes in the fantasy sequences are fantastic, dripping with fringe, fur and sequins.
The costumes pair beautifully with the playful, colorful set, adapted for the tour by Michael Carnahan. The action is framed by a giant snow globe, contributing to the vivid sense that we are witnessing memory, crafted by Director Matt Lenz. All the scenes translate seamlessly to the stage, with open-front houses smoothly making way for snow-covered fields of pine trees and playgrounds seen through schoolroom windows. Much of the action takes place in the Parker’s small, cluttered and cozy home. Though the space is tight, the actors move through the rooms easily, and scenes such as unpacking the infamous leg lamp from its large crate play quite well. Equally well done is Highbee’s, the department store where Ralphie outmaneuvers store elves to beg Santa for a rifle. The bright, festive colors and busy set dressing conveys the hectic giddiness of the holiday retail season beautifully.
The most impressive technical element is the lighting, which at times plays like another character. Charlie Morrison’s fantastical, playful design is the cherry on top of the nostalgic mood set by Lenz. From the reflection of Christmas lights in windows to dramatic spotlights and splashes of color during the fantasy sequences, the lighting is perfect. No actor goes unlit, no matter how complicated the design, and the transitions are smooth and unobtrusive. The blue twinkles during “Ralphie to the Rescue” is the perfect accompaniment to the dream sequence, and the bright, glittery spots during The Old Man’s fantasy kick line in “A Major Award” gives the impression of a Busby Berkeley spectacular.
As robust as the visual elements are, the sound is disappointingly flat. Despite a large ensemble of over twenty people, the music never really fills the space. Sound Designer Ed Chapman may have struggled with the venue as The Music Hall doesn’t have the acoustics of some of Dallas’ other performance halls. The sound in A Christmas Story is very well-balanced, but slightly puny.
The large cast proves more than capable of living up to the standards set by the technical crew. The ensemble’s energy is unflagging and their singing is pitch perfect and artistically tight. The children’s ensemble is pure joy, personified by some of the cutest kids alive. The scenes where they’re all on stage, such as the number “When You’re a Wimp”, are some of the best in the show. Ralphie’s best friends, Schwartz (Johnny Marx) and Flick (Christian Dell’Edera), convey the mischief of childhood through their pranks and dares. Dell’Edera gets kudos and laughs for his comedic timing in the classic scene where Flick freezes his tongue to a metal pole.
All of Ralphie’s family members are very well cast, and they play off of each other naturally. Cal Alexander as Randy is a little ball of talent; it’s clear he’s a triple threat in the making. He whines convincingly as he tags along behind Ralphie, and his voice is clear and strong. The connection between Alexander and Susannah Jones as Mother is nearly palpable. Jones is brilliant in this role, arguably the best player in the cast. She gives the frazzled mother from the movie a more polished veneer while simultaneously imbuing the role with a sense of deep love for the family. Her solos “What a Mother Does” and “Just Like That” are moving and nuanced, and her voice shines. Though the action is almost identical to the film, including some of the lines, Jones hits a different, more sophisticated level of comedy than the movie. The character becomes vibrant and is elevated nearly to a leading role by Jones’ performance.
Jones is partnered by Christopher Swan as The Old Man, who also gives his unique spin on what could have been simply a copy-and-paste character. The musical goes deeper into Frank Parker’s inner monologue than the movie does, and Swan knocks it out of the park with numbers like “The Genius on Cleveland Street” and “A Major Award.” Some purists may prefer the gruff, stoic movie version to the man who yearns to be recognized for a little greatness that the musical gives us, but Swan’s performance in the role is undeniably exemplary. He plays the loud, easily-angered character with a light hand and gives nuance and depth with pitiful, Mr. Cellophane-esque moments of yearning. His booming voice fits the music like it was written for him, and Swan shows he is a natural performer in this role.
Avital Asuleen as Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields rounds out the main members of the supporting cast, and it’s clear she’s having a blast in this role. The melodrama of “Ralphie to the Rescue” is pure fun, and Asuleen is talented enough to satisfy all of the demands of the role. Her second act tap number with the children’s ensemble, “Sticky Situation,” shows her dancing chops. Her voice is full and belting, and her portrayal of Miss Shields as seen through the lens of Ralphie’s memory makes for a superb performance.
Colton Maurer as Ralphie does a solid, if unremarkable, job in the leading child’s role. He’s very cute and never misses a beat, but he lacks the elocution necessary for some of the fast lines. While he handles his high notes with ease, his voice is lost in the lower pitches. Still, he holds his own in a demanding role, playing against shining stars like Jones and Asuleen, no small feat.
The biggest deviation from the film is the character of Jean Shepherd (Chris Carsten), a small time radio personality with his own show on a local station. Jean takes on the role of the narrator as he tells a story on his show based on his memories as a child. Carsten sets the nostalgic tone from the start. He wanders in and out of the main action, dropping beautiful moments here and there: shooting a pretend gun at the sun, peeking his head around the side of the house to get a better look, watching as The Old Man and Mother put the boys to bed. He never oversteps his role, always complimenting the action instead of being distracting. Carsten vies with Jones for the best performance of the night.
Where the film version of A Christmas Story is a nostalgic ode to childhood, the musical is really about family. Ralphie has distinct relationships with each of his family members, and there is an overall theme of familial unity and love. DSM’s production is both emotionally touching and fun to watch – a perfect start to the holiday season.
Dallas Summer Musicals
Music Hall at Fair Park
909 1st Ave
Dallas, TX 75210
**Limited run through December 14th.
Tuesday-Sunday at 7:30 pm, and Saturday-Sunday at 1:30 pm. Additional performances on Sunday, Dec. 7th, at 7:30 pm and Thursday, Dec. 11th, at 1:30 pm.
Tickets range from $25.00 - $98.00
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.dallassummermusicals.com or call their box office at 214-421-5678, option 5. You may also purchase tickets at The Box Office, 542 Preston Royal Shopping Center (no service charge), at ticketmaster.com, or Charge-By-Phone at 1-800-982-ARTS (2787).