If you're looking for an evening of holiday-themed musical family fun that will entertain one and all, look no further than A Christmas Story, The Musical from Align Entertainment, now playing at Burnaby's Michael J. Fox theatre.
It deftly captures the innocent yet cheeky humour of the beloved film - and even if you somehow managed to miss it after all these years and endless TV showings, the musical version stands on its own as a charming, engaging and often-hilarious evocation of a 1940's Christmas and 9-year-old Ralphie's single-minded longing for – and hapless pursuit of – his dream gift.
That longed-for gift is, of course, an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. Ralphie's visions of himself as a gun-toting cowboy hero are fodder for some of the most entertaining set pieces in the show, as his classroom is overrun by bad guys and bank robbers, all of whom are handily defeated by his expert marksmanship skills.
The show works well on all levels, with great characters, pacing, staging, and songs. The latter is, ironically, never guaranteed in a musical, but the score, by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (tunesmiths for stage hits like Dear Even Hansen and films like La La Land), is consistently tuneful and witty.
Dramatically speaking, "A Christmas Story" expertly translates the set-piece moments of the film for the parameters of the stage. Ralphie's hero fantasies become a grand Oklahoma! -style tableau of high-stepping townsfolk. His father's similarly Walter-Mitty-eque dreams of winning a "major award" in a crossword-puzzle contest swell into a stage-filling, tap-dancing, glittering, Busby Berkeley-esque number.
The 12-piece band generates a big, lush sound in a melodic score that is in turn film-score orchestral and big-band jazzy.
Equipped with a short 50's haircut and chunky black retro specs, Owen Scott embodies the hapless Ralphie of the film version... but with sturdy vocal talent added to the mix. Brennan Cuff channels the sly charm of a Greg Kinnear as "The Old Man". Stefanie Stanley brings a tender undertone to the role of Ralphie's mom, constantly wrangling her kids to the breakfast table and to school. Her "What a Mother Does" is a moving, tender moment amidst all the fast-paced hilarity. And Trent Glukler brings a perfectly-pitched, laconic midwestern wit to the role of Jean Shepherd, radio host, storyteller and author of the tales upon which "A Christmas Story" was based. Here as in the movie, Shepherd acts as narrator.
Lastly, a note must be made of the universally excellent vocal talent in this show - from the leads, to the kids, on down to the entire ensemble. Pitch-perfect harmonies and soaring, blending voices are a regular feature of the evening, and kudos go to them and to Musical Director Caitlin Hayes for some outstanding work.
A Christmas Story, The Musical will light up your holiday season more brightly than a leg-shaped lamp perched at a suburban window. Don't miss it!