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What is the one thing, the real hum dinger of a gift, that any child would want for Christmas? For Ralphie, the only answer to this question is a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun, the only problem is that all the adults around him seem intent on thwarting his chances of attaining his goal, mostly as they believe that he will take his eye out. With Christmas fast approaching, Ralphie must use all his wits and cunning to get the present of his dreams...
A Christmas Story is a contemporary show; you can’t really get more contemporary as (as of September 2012) it is still playing in the States. The show is based on the much loved 1983 comedy film, which itself was based on the short stories of Jean Shepherd. The show with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and the Book by Joseph Robinette, has a heady task on its hands, not only to be faithful to the original film, which itself was a love letter to growing up in the forties, but also to provide songs, which for a modern audience has the authenticity of something which could have existed in the forties without them sounding old and redundant. In most respects the creators of the show have delivered a little polished gem.
The show opens with 'Overture' (2 min, 47 sec), which sets the tone and musical themes of the show, the orchestration is immediately in your face bouncy, although it owes more than a little to the sound of the sixties, rather than the forties, however its positivity is undeniable and acts as a good introduction to the show as a whole.
'Counting Down to Christmas' (2 min, 53 sec) and the narrator introduces the song. In the original work and in the film the narrator played a large and important part, here also the idea of an older Ralphie telling the story of his best Christmas present is introduced as the song introduces you to Ralphie and his parents. For a child actor Clarke Hallum (Ralphie) has a seriously impressive voice, it has the noticeable high tone of a young voice, but he demonstrates both a good range and a believable interpretation of the songs emotional themes.
Every department store pushes Christmas and it’s no different 'At Highbee’s' (1 min, 17 sec), who present us with a little advertising ditty, it is here that Ralphie comes face to face with paradise in the form of the 'Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun' (2 min, 10 sec) and when you’ve seen your dream the only thing you can do is spend your time 'Counting Down to Christmas (reprise)' (1 min, 03 sec).
'The Genius on Cleveland Street' (3 min, 34 sec) has Ralphie starting to work out his plan on how to impress enough for a gun; well Ralphie will find a way. By this point in the show you realise that the songs are going to be saccharine sweet properties, or uplifting, rousing, funny songs - still this is show you take you kids to, the film was aimed at a family audience and the show makes no apologies for aiming at the same demographic.
Now if Ralphie was a big kid things would not be so bad, but truth be told it’s not fun 'When You’re a Wimp' (3 min, 15 sec), but even the wimps are planning their revenge in another upbeat number. Like most oppressed kids, Ralphie has a rich fantasy life and here he is a hero and when danger threatens you can always look forward to 'Ralphie to the Rescue' (4 min, 20 sec) the song recollects Americana with its western themes. I can almost feel myself riding a horse, this song as well as 'A Major Award' are the highlights of the show
'What a Mother Does' (2 min, 51 sec) is so sugary, I thought I had developed diabetes, but it’s a reflection of how America has become revisionist about the reality of their past. In time honoured tradition, when it’s cold outside all kids want to do is stick their tongues to frozen poles which only leads to a 'Sticky Situation' (3 min, 56 sec). Ralphie is not the only person who has dreams, even his dad, Mr Parker, dreams of winning 'A Major Award' (7 min, 47 sec), which he appears to have won in the shape of a gaudy lamp. The first act ends with 'Act One Finale' (1 min, 15 sec).
Given how much had gone into the first act, the second seemed relatively bare of songs as the story makes its way to the fulfilment of Ralphie’s dream, the second act only consists of six songs 'A Kid at Christmas' (1 min, 57 sec), 'Just Like That' (3 min, 12 sec), 'Up on Santa’s Lap' (3 min, 38 sec), 'Before the Old Man Comes Home' (3 min, 34 sec), 'Somewhere Hovering over Indiana' (3 min, 27 sec) and 'A Christmas Story' (5 min, 44 sec).
Ralphie (Clarke Hallum), Jean Shepherd (Tom Wopat), The Old Man (John Bolton), Mother (Liz Callaway), Miss Shields (Carol Swarbrick) and Randy (Matthew Lewis) do a good job at projecting the innate positivity and fun of the show, Hallum especially impresses for one so young.
So, if you’re looking for a slice of retrospective fun, A Christmas Story might just be what you’re looking for.