OREM — Reviewing theatre during the holidays is a challenging enterprise because a Christmas production can be someone’s holiday tradition, and it can be awkward and strange to critique that. The newest production at the SCERA in Orem, A Christmas Story: The Musical, is a good example of the holiday traditions on stage. Not only is it a musical based on the beloved 1983 film, but as it is the SCERA’s fourth consecutive year staging it, the show has become an annual tradition for SCERA‘s audience. I have now attended three of these productions, I always leave with a big smile on my face. I don’t think it will win over non-fans of the movie, but for those willing to give it a chance they should walk away full of the Christmas spirit.
I can understand why some people think the movie is over-hyped but I find it to be one of the best depictions of childhood ever put to screen. The musical adaptation (with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and a book by Joseph Robinette) captures innocence and charm and manages to adapt every major scene from the movie well. It must have been a daunting book to write because there are so many scenes to include. There is everything from the bully section, to sticking the tongue on the pole, to the bunny outfit, to Santa with the slide etc. I do think they spend a bit too much time on Ralphie’s old west fantasies with “Ralphie to the Rescue,” but it still overall works as an accurate translation of the movie to stage.
Kurt Elison returns to direct A Christmas Story, and he gets the most out of his large and talented cast. I appreciate how the entire stage is used particularly in the Old Man songs (played by Mark Buffington). For example, the character starts sitting down and then moves throughout the stage talking to all the audience, trying to convince the crowd that he is indeed “The Genius on Cleveland Street.” Costume designers Deborah Bowman and Kelsey Seaver contributed greatly to the success of the show with the quality and variety of the costumes. The two have not only created 1940s wear for the actors, but there are Old West ensembles, Christmas jammies, and lots of elf outfits for the department store that were all perfectly executed. The Oldsmobile made for the stage by scenic designer Zippy Hellewell is also very well done, as is the Parker house with 2 stories that are used throughout the show.
My favorite scenes of this musical are actually two of the less silly sections. First, I love when Mother sings “What a Mother Does.” There are so few songs validating what a wife, mother, and homemaker does for a family, and Emily Hawkes sings this song beautifully. That life route is not the only option for a woman, but it is a valid and worthwhile choice and one that often goes under-appreciated by even her own family. That is the whole point of the song, and Hawkes conveys it lovingly and honestly.
The other section I love is the bully plotline. As someone who was bullied as a child, I connected with Ralphie’s frustration and when he finally gets his comeuppance on Scut and Grover it’s very satisfying. The storyline is both moving and realistic. It is hard to convincingly cry on stage, but Mitt Harris (as Ralphie) does it excellently in these scenes. I would put his acting up with any of the outstanding adult performances I have seen this year. I also think “When You’re a Wimp” is an extremely catchy song that ranks with anything from Matilda or other theater for young performers.
I think Ed Eyestone could add a little bit of snark to his performance as Jean Shepherd. He plays the role straight, which takes a little bit of the humor from the narration. Also, while I do not mind the projected backgrounds which supplement the two major sets (the Parker house and the department store), but people seemed to be running behind the screen, which made it sway back and forth often taking me out of the moment set up by the background.
Luckily, much of the yuletide cheer on stage is of my liking. Anyone looking for a family musical to get you in the holiday spirit cannot do better than A Christmas Story at the SCERA. Christmas, at its core, is a holiday for children, and if adults are lucky, they can get caught up in their optimism and hope. This is what A Christmas Story amply gives its audience, and I highly recommend making it part of anyone’s yuletide festivities this year.