” A Christmas Story: The Musical”


Recommended ***

There are times that rating a play is a difficult task, indeed. The opening night of Citadel Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Story: The Musical” was  cancelled due to a storm and power outage. No fault of theirs, and the highly energetic cast truly was ready and willing to work in any conditions.

Tonight, I returned to the theater for the production. Those of you familiar with the venue, know it is a smaller theater (144 seats, I think) and a very tiny stage area. This makes it a difficult place to do a musical production, limiting them to the over-all productions they can do. Recently, they began to do musicals, starting with the use of “canned” music and learning that the Lake Forest audiences demand actual “live” music. They do bring this to their stage since!

I LOVE the story of “Christmas Story”, the movie telling the tale of that special Christmas Holiday in the life  of Jean Shepherd (based on his book “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”!) The movie was written by Shepherd along with Leigh Brown and Bob Clark. It was then converted to the stage version and later, with a revised book by Joseph Robinette and Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the musical version that has recently played on several area stages.  The story takes place in 1940 in a small town in Indiana, very close to the Illinois border. The family, the Parkers are a typical family, one month before Christmas. Our main character is Ralphie (Ryan Carlson has the look and the feel of the character. The role is also played on other nights by Donovan Martin). who is in reality, our narrator, Jean Shepherd (deftly handled by Scott Phelps) as he tells us “his” story. Ralphie has a dream gift- the Daisy, Red Ryder Carbine-action BB gun (if you never heard of this, Red Ryder was a movie and comic book hero during those days and he had a real carbine rifle, not BB’s) Ralphie wants to BE the “new Red Ryder”!How can a young boy get a gift such as this? Why, as everyone tells him, “You’ll shoot your eye out”! This is what the story is about. Ralphie’s desire to GET the gift he wants and his angles as to how to get the adults to side with him despite the pitfalls. He has a younger brother as well. Randy (played to perfection by Carter Graf, who is truly a scene stealer) is worth watching on stage. He is adorable and never loses his character. In fact, hats off to all the kids in this production as well as the ensemble. There is also a great cameo by Santa Claus in the second act (“Up On Santa’s Lap”) an adorable number and he takes no credit for his clever interpretation of this role!

This is a large -scale production and seems a bit awkward on the smaller stage of Citadel. Directed smoothly by Robert D. Estrin with choreography by Jennifer Cupani, this production is a valiant effort in trying to do something that is larger than life on a stage that is far too small to handle it. The flexible set designed by Jose Manuel Diaz-Soto is pure genius and a great attempt at resolving the situation, but falls a bit short in that the scene changes take a bit longer than they should and some of the dance numbers seem constricted. I will have to say that the tap number handled by school-teacher Miss Shield (Kayla Boyle is a dynamo in this number and the glorious “Ralphie To The Rescue”). In fact, these two numbers are worth the price of the ticket on their own. The Old Man (Chase Peacock) and Mother (Traci Cidlik) are not as strong as the boys, Phelps and  Boyle. Perhaps they should have spent some more time with the original film version, just to learn how to be a Hoosier.

Gina Lyden Masland and her two musicians (Mike Walsh and Eric Latto) are the “orchestra”, and do a reasonable job with a huge score. These three musicians make us feel that we indeed have many additional pieces. I would also say, “hats off” to the kids in the ensemble who work hard : Asher Ramaly, Brooke MacDougal, Jonah Harder, Kevin Amdahl Taylor , Sophie Hamill, Julia Novey, Ashley MacDougal and Cate Gordon. Some of the kids take on other roles, when the B cast takes on their parts. When the audience is this close to the cast, one can see who is INTO the show. They all were ! Special tech notes- nice jobs; lighting ( Kyle E Techentin), Costumes (Janice Gemp ), props (Cathy Jacobson) and sound (Bob Boxer). Nice work. I congratulate Citadel for reaching to new heights and hope if they remain where they are, they will find ways to condense their shows to fit their stage. Just a thought. I would love to hear from you readers!

“A Christmas Story: The Musical” will continue thru December 18th with performances as follows:    
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays  8 p.m.
Saturdays  8 p.m.
Sundays  3 p.m.
SPECIAL Matinees: 12/10 and 12/17  1 p.m.
12/7 and 12/14 at 11:00 a.m.
Tickets run $35-$38 with senior and student discounts available.
The theater is located at 300 S. Waukegan Road in Lake Forest (just South of Route 60).
To order your tickets call 847-735-8554 or visit www.CitadelTheatre.org
Plenty of FREE parking on the premises. To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “A Christmas Story: The Musical”.
Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes with one intermission