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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

A Christmas Story, The Musical Sparkles at the Hippodrome

Photo: Gary Emord Netzley
People don’t always get what they really want for a Christmas present, but I can assure you if someone gave you a gift that allows you to attend A Christmas Story, The Musical currently playing at the Hippodrome Theater, you would be jumping for joy.  This lavish production under the solid direction of Matt Lenz is a sparkling snow globe full of enchantment, sweetness, brilliant color, eye-watering humor, pleasing songs and an abundance of talent to make your Christmas season bright.  It couldn’t come at a better time.   #hocoarts
Based on the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, the musical adaptation, which premiered on Broadway in 2012, received several TONY®, Drama Desk and Outer Circle nominations.  The duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul crafted the music and lyrics, and the book was penned by Joseph Robinette based on the writings of radio humorist Jean Shepherd as well as the film.

The story of young Ralphie Parker’s determined quest to receive the only gift he wants—an official Red Ryder® Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle—is as endearing as it is comical. (Ralphie is played by Austin Molinaro for this performance.)  The zany saga is packed with mishaps, disappointments, and fulfillment during December 1940 in Hohman, Indiana. 
You have this tawdry lady’s leg lamp that was won by Ralphie’s father in a contest, which the old man covets but his wife deplores.  You have bullies who if they push the right buttons can be beaten up themselves. There are flying lug nuts and a wayward cuss word that results in a bar of soap snack.  You have neighbors’ hounds running amok through the Parkers’ house and devouring their Christmas turkey. 

There is a cranky and increasingly intoxicated Santa who frightens the children more than giving them Christmas joy.  A down-to-earth teacher breaks out of character to perform a stunning dance number in a glitzy red gown. You have a tongue freezing on a flagpole incident resulting from the dreaded triple-dog-dare.  Then there was the Christmas carol-singing Chinese restaurant waiter, just for good measure. 
Regardless of who Ralphie encounters to lobby for this special rifle, whether it is his mother (Susannah Jones); his old man (Christopher Swan); Miss Shields, his teacher (Angelica Richie); even Santa (Andrew Berlin), Ralphie is told one thing, “You’ll shoot you’re eye out.”

Chris Carsten does a truly splendid job as the voice of Jean Shepherd, narrating the often hilarious story in the first person as a grown-up Ralphie with an onstage, non-intrusive presence throughout the production.  He recalls and shares the younger Ralphie’s thoughts as the boy navigates through each caper.
As the central character, bespectacled Ralphie, Austin Molinaro performs proficiently with his acting and comedic skills, vocals and dancing.  He is particularly adept in one of the show’s best numbers, “Ralphie to the Rescue!” whereby he imagines he’s a cowboy using his rifle to thwart bank robbers and other assorted scoundrels.

The remainder of his family unit is also appealing with its Midwestern charm.  Christopher Swan as The Old Man is spot-on.  The father is strict with his children and cursing is verboten (except when he does it).  A hardworking man who struggles with the house’s furnace and his Olds, he found solace in winning that lady’s leg lamp.  Gruff as he may be at times, you still root for him, thanks to the performance of Mr. Swan.
His best songs are “The Genius on Cleveland Street,” a duet with Susannah Jones and “A Major Award,” a phenomenal dance number that evolves into a clever can-can with he and the ensemble dancing with lady legs lamps with the shades seeming like skirts.   

Ms. Jones as Ralphie’s sweet mother is the perfect counterpart for her husband.  She is the sensible one of the two and protective of her children.  Ms. Jones’ rendition of “What a Mother Does” is moving.
Arick Brooks adorably plays Ralphie’s timid younger brother who is averse to eating unless he mimics a pig at a trough.  But talented Arick is quite the hoofer as he along with Angelica Richie (Miss Shields) and other youngsters in the ensemble are flawless tap dancers in “You’ll Shoot You’re Eyes Out.” 

This is one of several terrific production numbers choreographed Warren Carlyle and then reset by Jason Sparks for the tour.  Other quality dance numbers include the aforementioned “Ralphie to the Rescue!” and the imaginative “A Major Award.”
The remainder of the cast performs very well in support of the leads playing the roles of neighbors, shoppers, parents, students, townspeople, elves and others.  All are costumed magnificently by Lisa Zinni. 

The songs are performed with precision under the musical supervision of Logan Medland.  

Michael Carnahan designed an outstanding set.  The principal one is a cut-out of the two-level Parker house that moves back and forth to accommodate scene changes. The living room and kitchen are downstairs while the bedrooms are on the second floor.  The exterior of the house is appropriately lined with Christmas lights.  Another spectacular set is the snow globe effect that serves as a background to several scenes.
Working in conjunction with the sets is the fantastic lighting design by Charlie Morrison.  His use of bold hues that frequently change for emphasis and effect produces a gorgeous palette of color throughout the production.

In addition, much credit should go to sound designer Ed Chapman as all dialogue were audible and clear and the orchestration balanced so as not to overwhelm the vocalists.
A Christmas Story, The Musical is a production that runs on all cylinders.  It has all the elements needed to bring holiday cheer and pure enjoyment with its talented cast and crew under masterful direction.  Oh, and the loveable hounds?  They’re real!

So the question you may ask, what’s so great about a show about a kid desiring a BB-gun for Christmas?  The answer: everything.  Don’t miss this one.
Running time. Two hours and twenty-five minutes with an intermission.

A Christmas Story, The Musical runs through December 11 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

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