A Christmas Story the Musical at the Ordway

Jake Goodman and Gary Briggle in A Christmas Story, the Musical. Photo by Christian Brown, courtesy of the Ordway.

Jake Goodman and Gary Briggle in A Christmas Story, the Musical. Photo by Christian Brown, courtesy of the Ordway.

The Ordway is doing it up big this holiday season. “A Christmas Story the Musical” is a big show: big cast; big sets gliding on and off, and big production numbers that wow with a wink, as if to say, “We know this is a little over the top for the subject, but let’s go for it.” And it’s smothered in nostalgia, from the kids’ plaid wool coats to mom in an apron, this is feel-good stuff all the way. If what you’re looking for is “warm and fuzzy” (done up in a big way) this is your show.

You know “The Christmas Story,” right? Just in case you don’t, here it is: a boy wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. That’s it. The fun, even if you’ve seen the movie a few dozen times, is in seeing how anybody could possibly generate two hours of singing and dancing from this. Oh, but they do. Writers Joseph Robinette, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have constructed a tight, camped-up show from … well, not a whole lot.

If you’re a straight-ahead musical theater lover, they could be singing about anything, and if it’s well done, you’re buyin’ it, right? If you’re fine with any excuse to fly in a new set, bring the chorus on (in clever “lamp costumes, maybe?), you’re going to love this. From a subject matter standpoint, it is what it is. But there’s no denying the cleverly crafted lyrics, suitable music and expert pacing of the show, which received three 2012 Tony Award nominations, I should add.

The Ordway’s production, directed and choreographed by producing director James Rocco and Sharon Halley, goes for an acting style that’s a little over the top for me (and that’s saying something for Broadway Musicals these days), particularly Dieter Bierbrauer as Ralphie’s father, “the Old Man.” As written it’s an over-the-top character, however, which the composer and lyricist backed up with a full production number in a dramatization of the character’s obsession with contests in “A Major Award.” Bierbrauer goes after it with abandon.

Billie Wildrick as Ralphie’s mother is easily the most believable character, and wonderfully appealing, particularly in one of the show’s rare tender moments, singing “Just Like That.”

Jake Goodman (Ralphie) has an amazing voice – pitch perfect, great diction and just plain beautiful. And he has acting chops, too. Goodman is already a pro and on his way. James Ciccarelle is adorable as Ralphie’s younger brother, Randy, although he appeared too old – and too big – for the part.

His school pals back him up facing the local bully in “When You’re a Wimp.” But that’s just the beginning. Fourteen kids, by my count, sang and danced their way through a pile of numbers. They weren’t just cute – they were darned good.

Gary Briggle takes the narrator role as humorist Jean Shepherd, the author who created the semi-autobiographical Ralphie in his book, In God We Trust; All Others Pay Cash. Briggle is charming, as always, as he glides in and out of the action.

Local singer and educator Erin Schwab as schoolteacher Miss Shields gets just one solo, but, boy, does she make it count. Schwab darned near carried off the audience with her in a brassy and badass “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!” She just plain killed it; Ethel Merman is back!

While this is an Ordway production, it is not strictly local, but many of the performers are from the Twin Cities, making up a traditionally-sized chorus for a musical. Wow, what a difference from the frequently pared-down touring show chorus! They sounded so good, they darned near stole the show, but it was packed with solo-capable talent, so I’m not surprised.

There were some glitches with missed sound cues and getting the proper balance settled in. I’m assuming that will be smoothed away. The “it’s all about love” ending felt tacked on, but at least it was short. Seems to me that the umpteen reprises of the “it all comes down to Christmas” provided enough of a theme, given the age of the protagonist.

The show runs through December 28. Recommended for all ages.

 

 

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