by MIKE CHAIKEN
“A Christmas Story: The Musical” is the perfect night out to help put the entire family into a Christmas spirit.
The stage show is based on the movie, “A Christmas Story,” which in turn was based on the stories of radio host Jean Shepard. And it is given a fine treatment in the road tour, which stops into Hartford this weekend.
The show, which I saw on Nov. 24, will find a multitude of ways into the hearts of each generation. The show is set in the 1940s. And for older members of the audience, say from their 50s to 80s, it will remind them of a simpler time, when Christmas was more about what Santa brought you based on your behavior rather than what you felt you were entitled to because of the luck of the calendar. For the generation that followed, the show is loving adaptation of the movie that many grew up watching on cable television as it was put on an endless loop each Christmas Eve. And for the children, the show is fun because it’s about being a child. The humor is designed to allow them to laugh at the events on stage (while still tickling the funny bone of nostalgic adults).
The most important character in the show is Ralphie, the 9-year-old who covets a BB gun for Christmas but is told again and again, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” But he is dogged in his persistence, but not in an unscrupulous way– but in a way that mines the parameters of a world where superior behavior might lead to superior gifts.
Tristan Klaphake did a great job as this evening’s Ralphie. (The show alternates between two.) There was the right amount of childlike wonder in his performance. He had a fine voice in the musical numbers, and he was immensely watchable, and we rooted for him every step of the way. This wasn’t an adult in miniature or a precocious mensch. Klaphake was a kid, plain and simple, and a kid we could root for.
Paul Nobrega, as the Old Man, did a great job of bringing laughs to the proceedings. Again, however there was a balance. He found the humor in the character and being part of the story rather than milk the jokes. His rubbery facial expressions added exclamation points to the gentle humor of “A Christmas Story.” His moment to shine was “A Major Award,” where he danced around with the film’s most iconic symbol, the lamp in shape of a leg. Nobrega also worked tenderness into the gruff, expletive-spouting, father-figure. We could tell he loved his family even as life sometimes beat him down.
Chris Carsten also was superb as the narrator Jean Shepard. As he pulled together the individual vignettes of the show, his vocal inflections and energy helped propel the proceedings along and vested the audience in the action. He had a true knack for the art of storytelling.
The younger cast members of the wimps and bullies accompanying Klaphake also did a great job of providing the feel for the era. The director, Matt Lenz, was smart enough to cast young actors who evoked more “Leave it to Beaver” than Disney Channel.
“A Christmas Story: The Musical” from the top down was great fun. It got me into the holiday spirit without becoming too schmaltzy, and thankfully it avoided post-modern slip into commercial cynicism.
Bring the whole family. Everyone will get a kick out of it.
I give it 3 ½ stars out of 4.
“A Christmas Story: The Musical” continues at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford this Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and this Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
For tickets, go to www.Bushnell.org