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“A Christmas Story, The Musical”

★★★★★ In 1983, I watched one of the funniest films relative to the holidays. The name of the film was “A Christmas Story” and it was written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark. The

film was based on Shepherd’s book of anecdotes “”In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash” and these anecdotes are snippets of memories of his childhood. The movie starred Melinda Dillon ( who I had gone to Goodman Theater School with) ,  Darren McGavin ( who I had always thought of as Mike Hammer from his old TV series) and  started the career of one Peter Billingsly. It is a hoot of a film and every hliday season one can see it on many different TV networks.

Several years ago, it was redeveloped with a book by Joseph Robinette and music and lyrics by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul into a musical comedy and the first view I had of this was in Munster Indiana at the Theatre At The Center. The actual story setting is Homan Indiana , a small community in Lake County so it was very fitting for the play to be done there. I don’t recall anyone else producing this musical until Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire announced that it was on their schedule. I wasn’t sure just how this monumental work would fit on an in-the-round-theater. How can some of the scenes come close to working with very little set and no fourth wall to keep the focus with. Then I saw that Scott Weinstein was directing and I knew that if it could be done, it would be done.

Welcome to Indiana! This production is sparkling and one forgets about the film very quickly. As I said earlier, Darren McGavin is my guy, but lo and behold casting Lorenzo Rush Junior was perfect. He plays the “old Man” ( the father) and along with Sara Reinecke as Mother you have the perfect couple. The ensemble is strong and highly energetic. This is something that I always find at Marriott, but this show has lots of kids and they are in fact what makes this show the prefect holiday fare for the family.

The story is told by Shepherd ( played to perfection by Kevin McKillip , making his Marriott debut) as he brings us from scene to scene, often becoming a part of the scene. I believe in the Movie, this was a narration, but having him be a part of the story is great and makes the audience feel as if they are a part of his life. The main characters, other than the Mom and dad and Shepherd are the two boys , Ralphie ( Kavon Newman is terrific and in some performances the role is handled by Keegan Gulledge) and little brother  Randy ( The adorable Levi Merlo and in some performances Thomas Murphy Molony). They worked well together and in the scene with the winter coat and then Randy falling down, the full house was in stitches giving Merlo an ovation just for getting up.

As I said earlier, the kids are amazingly talented and have a great deal of stage time. Braden Crothers, Jake Maverick Gabor, Jordan Helvie, Maya Keane, Jaxon Mitchell, Elin Joy Seiler, Meena Sood, Annabel Finch, Lucian Gutfraynd, Gordon Henry Heisler and Lily Martens- loved them all. There are no hummable songs in this show, but there are numbers that you will still think about later. “Ralphie To The Rescue” is one of those and I am sure you will love the school teacher’s  “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out”.  Jenna Cocker-Jones is a wild Miss Shields and her song is a show stopper.

The choreography  by Tiffany Krause is wonderful and the dance scene relative to The Old Man winning a “Major Award” will knock your sox off. He wins a crossword puzzle contest and the prize is something special to him. There is also a great tap dance number. I must say that the ensemble plays many roles and they do so with great energy. I was very impressed with many of the characters played by Jackson Evans, in particular his Santa Clause where we see the boys visit Santa right before Christmas. The others, Matthew Bettencourt, Emily Ann Brooks, Hannah Fernandes, Dan Gold, Ron King, Alexandra Pakovic, Allison Sill, Richard Strimer, Ayana Strutz and Michael Turrentine all made the action as directed by Weinstein Work.

The music conducted by Kevin Reeks and the sound (Michael Daly) and lighting (Jesse Klug) along with glitzy costumes by Izumi Inaba made the show solid and despite not having walls, the set by Jeffrey D. Kmiec brings you a visual that helps keep the story moving. The Props by Sally Zack and the wigs (Miguel A. Armstrong and Christine Reszel) are the finishing touches to 2 hours and 25 minutes of pure entertainment that will make your holidays special.