I have been an instant fan of the movie “A Christmas Story” from the moment I first saw it. Its sense of wonder, whimsy, and Yuletide hullabaloo appealed to the child in me, who’s quite close to the surface. While I didn’t learn about the movie “A Christmas Story” until about 10 years after its release, it’s been played in my home at least twice every season and sometimes even in the summer. I’ve been looking forward to the Paper Mill Playhouse production, with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, book by Joseph Robinette, direction by Brandon Ivie, and choreography by Mara Newbery Greer, from the moment the company announced its season and it’s made another brilliant piece of memorable Holiday magic for new generations.
The story of Ralphie (Colton Maurer, in the show I viewed), as told by Jean Shepherd (Ted Koch), is the story of all children, boys and girls, of a certain age. We all wanted toys that today would be considered dangerous. If you didn’t end up with a blister on your hand from your cap gun, then you weren’t playing hard enough! The tangy smell of gunpowder from the paper caps was our first taste of playing with fire. Ralphie would be my Uncle Bob’s age and I can see him in the young boy, whose world revolves around the Red Ryder BB gun.
Ralphie’s brother Randy (Hudson Loverro) is a pretty simple kid. A little whiny, in that way kid brothers are, and lovable for the same reason, he’s Ralphie’s foil and his biggest fan and has some brilliant moments of his own, though Maurer is clearly the star. Maurer’s mobile, expressive face and his antic sense of fun, especially in numbers like “Ralphie to the Rescue” makes the evening fly faster than a Christmas sled. The Old Man (Chris Hoch) makes the part his own–and that’s tough considering Darin McGavin’s domination in the film. Hoch is channeling humorists-to-be when he channels Paul Lynde long before Lynde would “actually” have been on the scene. Fans of Elena Shaddow, who loved her as I did in “The Sound of Music” at Paper Mill, knocks the role of Mother right out of the park. She’s got the enviable combination of arch, supportive, and sassy to the Old Man, while being a rock to her sons whom they don’t yet appreciate. She sets the tone for all women to come, in the lives of her boys. Her number “What a Mother Does” will have you reaching for the hankie.
Schwarz (Vincenzo Faruolo) and Flick (Gabriel Reis) were spot on and the “Sticky Situation” in the second act was so well done that true fans will find it fascinating. Even as we wonder how they do it…! The Bumpus Hounds, whose real names are Pete and Lily, will steal your hearts even as they threaten to steal the show from the Old Man.
A favorite production numbers for me was “A Major Award,” which must be seen to truly be appreciated, as it’s Busby Berkeley on LSD. Danette Holden’s start turn in Miss Shields’ fantasy number “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” is amazing on several levels–imagine being a great actor in your own right, tap dancing and singing, while surrounded by the stars of tomorrow who are also tap dancing–Miss Shields is a mentor as a teacher, and Holden is a mentor and role model as a triple-threat actor, and the take-away is these kids have some big shoes to fill! Both numbers had me singing and tapping my foot at the show and when I got home, I feel asleep chuckling.
“A Christmas Story” runs in Millburn, New Jersey, through January 3, 2016 and you’ll want to give an early holiday gift right now! Nothing says “I love you” like live theater, visit www.papermill.org
for your tickets today. The season’s just begun. Make memories and give live theater today!