“A Christmas Story: The Musical” brings holiday cheer to The Fulton Theatre

Jeffrey Coon, Lindsay O'Neil and Ryan Kimbark in "A Christmas Story: The Musical." (photo courtesy of The Fulton's Facebook)

Josh Rittberg

Staff Writer

“A Christmas Story: The Musical” is an excellent theatrical adaptation of the classic 1983 film of the same name. The musical follows the plot of film that tells the story of the young Ralphie Parker (Ryan Kimbark) who wants nothing more for Christmas than a Red Ryder BB Gun. The musical is narrated by the radio host Jean Shepherd (Nathaniel Hackmann) who is taking the audience back to his childhood in 1940s Indiana. The inclusion of the Jean Shepherd character brings great heart to the story and is one of the many delightful surprises of this musical.

Ryan Kimbark is absolutely remarkable as Ralphie Parker. He has an incredible voice that truly soars in his showcase number “Red Ryder Carbine-Action BB Gun,” and brings hysterical comedic timing to the “Ralphie to the Rescue” wild west sequence. Along with nailing all of the classic scenes from the movie, he has great chemistry with all of his costars. Kimbark is particularly moving in his second act scene with the character’s younger brother Randy. For such a young performer, Ryan Kimbark has a stage presence that is way beyond his years, and is a true joy to watch.

Jeffrey Coon is a comedic riot as Ralphie’s father Frank, who is referred to in the show as The Old Man. Coon, who is clearly having a great time in the role, relishes all of his comedic moments and gets easily one of the most memorable songs of the night: “A Major Award”. Complete with a leg lamp kick line, this scene is traditional musical comedy at its best, and Coon stops the show cold with this rousing sequence.

Lindsay O’Neil brings much warmth to this musical comedy. O’Neil was in the original Broadway cast of “A Christmas Story: The Musical”, and her respect for this material shines through her entire performance. The number “What a Mother Does” gives the actress a chance to establish the Mother as a loving provider of the family. O’Neil’s performance gives the audience excellent insight into the character. O’Neil’s tender chemistry with Ryan Kimbark and Chase Jennings Gray who play her two sons is incredibly heartwarming and sensitive.

Nathaniel Hackmann brings excellently dry wit to the Jean Shepherd character and gives a thoroughly realized performance. Although he is not in many of the big musical numbers, Hackmann’s intelligent narration keeps this show grounded in reality even in the story’s most outrageous moments. His wistful line readings especially near the end of the evening, are incredibly touching and gets the audience fondly thinking back to their own Christmas memories. Hackmann is usually seen at The Fulton playing villains, and here he gets to show great range as the lead of this production and is a treat to watch.

Lanene Charters is absolutely hysterical as Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields. The character of Miss Shields gets many of the more outrageous fantasy scenes and embraces every comedic moment with flair and excitement. Her second act 1930’s influenced jazz number “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” is a true tour de force that leaves the audience spell bounded by her incredible talent and timing with the wonderful group of kids.

Other standouts in the cast include Chase Jennings Gray as the young Randy Parker, Andrew Berlin as a flask drinking Santa Claus, and Grant Bailey and Timmy Woodward Jr. who are hysterical as the two bullies Scut Farkus and Grover Dill. Their facial expressions and chemistry together were hysterical.

Wayne Bryan’s assured direction for this production keeps the show moving, and the laughs from Joseph Robinette’s funny book flowing. He gets great performances out of the cast and manages to pay homage to the film’s iconic moments while also creating something totally original and fresh. Bryan’s direction provides plenty of physical comedy moments for children, while also providing more sophisticated humor for adults.  It truly is a show for everybody.

The varied score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul is played vibrantly under Jonathan Lefever’s musical direction. Although the sound design by Jacob Mishler was a little muddled at times, Pasek and Paul’s bright melodies and gorgeous harmonies were done incredible justice by Lefever and the cast.

The thrilling choreography by Mara Newbery Greer was extremely creative and varies from country western for Ralphie’s hoedown sequence to a rousing tap number for Mrs. Shields. Just in the case of Brian’s direction, Greer’s choreography gives each cast member a moment to truly shine.

J. Branson’s sets adapt effortlessly to the various locations in Ralphie’s Indiana town, but without a doubt the centerpiece of Branson’s set is the home of the Parker Family. This remarkably detailed set piece slides upstage and downstage smoothly, while also framing the cast members beautifully. The lighting design by Michael O’ Connor is incredibly festive throughout, and heightens the comedy and talent with bright and innovative lighting choices. Much praise must also be given to Anthony Lascoskie Jr’s costume and wig designs that truly reach their height in the fantasy sequences. Lascoskie’s leg lamp dresses for the female ensemble members in “The Major Award” number has to be seen to be believed.

The Fulton’s production of “A Christmas Story: The Musical” is a joy inducing musical comedy that is sure to get audiences in the holiday spirit. The musical adaptation of “A Christmas Story” stands on its own as a great night of theatre, but it also improves on the original film with   stronger character development and lavish musical sequences. With a witty book, a tuneful score   and vibrant performances, this broadway caliber production will have audiences singing its praises all the way till Christmas.