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REVIEW: Old Fashioned, all-American ‘A Christmas Story’ lights up Music Mountain Theatre

By John Dwyer

Love and kindness. The warmth of giving juxtaposed against the cold puffs of air that we see outside. The harshness of the rat race takes a pause to watch children unwrap their dreams and families share a good meal and comradery.

“A Christmas Story” is a classic Christmas tale that nostalgically remembers all of this. The narrator recalls growing up in the 1940s and how memories survive and make us who we are today. “A Christmas Story” celebrates the traditions of the season.

“A Christmas Story” is a stage musical that was first seen in 2009 at Kansas City Repertory Theater in Missouri. It went to Broadway in 2012. It is adapted from a 1983 movie that is based on Jean Sheperd’s book “In God We Trust, the Rest Pay Cash,” several Playboy short stories published from 1964 to 1966, and some radio and college talks that he was giving. Both the movie and the stage show are based on a collection of holiday vignettes surrounding the protagonist Ralphie Parker, a 9-year-old boy, back in December 1940 in the small town of Homan, Indiana.

There are memories of Santa and wanting that very special toy, which in this case is a BB gun, trying to get mom and dad aware of your toy priority, issues with a teacher, Miss Shields, dealing with the school bully, almost bonding with Dad while fixing a tire, getting your mouth washed out with soap, Dad’s continuing battle with the furnace, and the most memorable scene in the movie: the triple dare that ends up with your best friend getting his tongue stuck on a flag pole.

This tale starts onstage with Jean Sheperd (Michael Moeller) on his radio show in New York City. It is his personal story as he is the grown up Ralphie but, as he knows, it is the story of every American boy and girl. Moeller is perfect for the role as there is an easygoingness that he possesses. He is so comfortable on stage that a perfectly casual remark that is so right for the moment will be so off the cuff that you are not sure if it is an ad lib or scripted. He is always a joy to watch.

But what truly will blow you away is the lead role of Ralphie Parker played by Skyler Carter. His age belies his skills. He must have been born on the stage. He sings and dances the role so effortlessly. Skyler’s Ralphie has that childlike Christmas wonder that can only be captured by a soul that not only has the joy for Christmas, but also for the stage. Carter is someone to watch in the future. His performance is a Christmas gift in and of itself.

A special shout out to the even younger Finn Grunshaw, who is adorably cute as Ralphie’s younger brother, Randy. No one fills out a snowsuit better. The scene between he and his mother getting into aforementioned snowsuit is priceless.

Sharing the stage with these wunderkinds are some seasoned professionals that include Louis Palena as the Old Man, Molly Logan as Mother, Jaime Geddes as Miss Shields and David McCloughan Jr. as Santa Claus. As expected, they are all on Santa’s good list and are the expected gifts for this show. Louis has a certain charm being a lanky curmudgeon and is particularly fine in “The Genius on Cleveland Street” and “A Major Award.” Molly Logan was splendid as Mother. There is such an ease and naturalness to her portrayal as the good, enduring, loving mother. The loveliest songs of the show are sung by Logan’s beautiful mezzo soprano when she performs “What a Mother Does” and “Just Like That.” Jamie Geddes can always be depended on to give a noteworthy performance and her Ms. Shields is no exception. She is so appealing fronting all the kids as they do an amazing tap routine in the show’s show stopper “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.” An expert hoofer, she is the ultimate teacher as she puts the kids thru a complex tap routine that has such joy, it may be the best holiday gift you will get this season. What can compare to all those smiles and twinkling eyes and rosy cheeks? Well, yes, there is Santa, who has those things and a droll little mouth that is drawn up like a bow. The reason for that, by the way, is because this Santa is known for taking a nip. Mr. Claus is played by the talented, ebullient David McLoughan Jr.

Kudos to director Anna Hentz, for casting a great set of actors, blocking some complex scenes with a cast of 39 and a dog, who by the way is one smart little thespian. The song “Ralphie to the Rescue” is one of many songs and scenes that Hentz , choreographer Jordan Brennan and dance captain Sharon Rudda have to make work, and it is filled with such spirit from all those young performers, the stage just glows. Due to so many young performers, there is even a position of Child Wrangler (Arianna Velez), whose contribution is, no doubt, great.

When the curtain rises, the set is so well done, it elicits a smattering of applause. Congratulations to Louis Palena, Karl Weigand and Ryan Cramer for set design and construction.

I had never seen the movie, as impossible as that may seem when it is on 24/7 on the Turner Broadcasting System during Christmastime. I didn’t know what I was missing. It is a classic. It warms the heart with nostalgia for a simpler time, and yet reminds us that some things will always be. It is a show that makes you want to hug your kids and then call your parents to tell them thank you. Great music. Great kids. Great energy. Great show. Ho ho ho!

The show continues through Nov. 25, and tickets can be purchased online.

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