It’s the cult Christmas movie. It has become a holiday classic on par with “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The lead character is absolutely iconic — a child of myth and legend.
This all makes any production of “A Christmas Story: The Musical” a high bar to meet.
But who better to helm a holiday musical based on a beloved cult classic than a movie buff? The movie buff in question is Adam Mast, a man known to Southern Utahns as a film critic for The Independent and they guy behind most of the fun film events around town, like the Guerrilla Filmmaking Challenge.
It’s obvious there is a love for the source material in St. George Musical Theater’s current production of “A Christmas Story: The Musical” with book by Joseph Robinette and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. And there’s a love for the source material in the audience, which greets all of the famous lines with laughter and/or applause.
“It’s a major award!”
“Fragile (‘fra-gee-lay’); it must be Italian!”
“My father worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay.”
Some of the most famous lines have entire songs built around them, like “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” and “Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun.” And most of these songs are as charming as the story itself.
There are no show-stopping vocals performances here and at times the cast struggles to stay in-sync vocally and choreographically, but their shortcomings are easily overlooked by the overall enjoyability of the production.
Unlike some musicals that seem overly bloated with singing and dancing, “A Christmas Story” has just the right amount. While the songs don’t necessarily move the plot forward, they add to the overall charm with the catchy tunes and Hollie Reina’s choreography enhances the musical numbers, especially on “A Major Award.”
Prop masters Suzan Ort and Cyndi Stueben also did a fine job bringing elements of the film to this theater-in-the-round production through iconic pieces like the infamous leg lamp (“electric sex”), the slide from the department store Santa scene and, of course, a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun.
But the success of any production of “A Christmas Story” will always come down to one element: Ralphie.
The boy is not only the center of the story, he’s also the heart of the story. SGMT’s current production has double cast Ralphie and his friend, Flick, with Will Haley and Gabriel Layton. Friday night’s production, reviewed here, featured Haley as Ralphie and Layton as Flick. If Layton is half as good as Haley in the lead role, then it’s a solid production all around.
It’s a good thing Haley plays Ralphie because otherwise he would probably be stealing all the scenes. The kid is a natural. While his voice breaks at times, it’s natural for someone his age. More importantly, he manages to stay in key while remaining easily understandable. He’s another large part of the production’s charm. Haley is just absolutely endearing, especially during numbers like “Ralphie to the Rescue.”
The role of Flick is significantly smaller, so Friday’s audience was not able to see much of Layton. However, he does bring a few laughs during and after the famous tongue-on-flagpole incident.
Helping child Ralphie anchor the production is Brad Christensen as the narrator. His calming voice and easy presence make him perfect for the role.
Rounding out the cast is Ralphie’s family with his father, or the “Old Man,” played by Roy Eckman; his mother played by Barb Christensen; and his little brother, Randy, played by Jacob Cumming. All deliver their parts well. Even though Cumming’s character is essentially a prop in many of the scenes, he proves to be expertly malleable.
Eckman’s character is known for his profanity, which has been softened from the film for SGMT’s family-friendly audience. While his speech is still characterized with all sorts of expletives, they are primarily of the made-up variety and still manage to maintain harmony with the tenor of the show.
Meanwhile, Barb Christensen, fresh off her brilliant physical comedy as Dotty/Mrs. Clackett in SGMT’s “Noises Off,” brings yet another physically hilarious role to life as Ralphie’s mom. She also brings much of the tenderness to the show.
Ultimately, it’s still Ralphie’s story and this idea is enforced in the second half as Mast deftly directs a sweet moment between the lead character and his little brother, leading perfectly toward the tuneful “Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana” and, eventually, the gentle title song.
Mast knows his movies and he knows this story well enough to know it succeeds best when it not only maintains the film’s nostalgic sweetness but also when it embraces the novel campiness of the source material.
This Christmas season, instead of watching the film for the Nth time, support the local arts and check out a stage version instead. But you better hurry since there are only a few more days available to see the show.
St. George Musical Theater will perform “A Christmas Story: The Musical” two more times today, Saturday, Dec. 9, with a matinee at 2 p.m. and an evening show at 7:30 p.m. Additional showings are 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11; Thursday, Dec. 14; Friday, Dec. 15; and Saturday, Dec. 16. All performances are staged in the round at the St. George Opera House, 212. N. Main St., St. George. Tickets are $17-$21. Visit sgmusicaltheater.com.