Ralphie Parker, a nine-year-old in 1940 Indiana, wants nothing in life more than a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing, which tells time. And he’s determined to get it this Christmas, no matter what. Unfortunately, his mother is as against the idea as he if for it. Invoking the dreaded mother BB gun block—you’ll shoot your eye out—seems to have Ralphie stumped. But such is his mania for this weapon, much better for Christmas than even a football, he’s willing to go clear to the top: Santa himself.
If this plotline sounds familiar, that’s because Ralphie’s story has been playing 24 hours straight every Christmas Eve and day, seemingly since the dawn of television. A Christmas Story has become as much a part of our collective consciousness as are A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. The Old Man, Randy, Flick, Schwartz, Mrs. Shields, and even Scut Farkus and his toady, Grover Dill, are as real to many of us as if they were actually from our childhoods. And in reality, they, or someone very much like them, are from our childhoods, which is probably why this movie is so popular.
Like the original movie, A Christmas Story: The Musical, produced admirably by The Actors Guild of Parkersburg under the more-than-able direction of David Rexroad, centers around Ralphie’s quest for the gift of his dreams. In a departure from the original, this presentation has a bit of a heart. Yes, Ralphie, portrayed nicely by Kaleb Windland, is all about the gun, and yes, the Old Man, wonderfully embodied by Joe Reeves, is all about winning the major award, but in this rendition of the story, we get a little insight into just why winning and looking smart is so important to him. We also learn how truly sweet and dedicated a mother Mrs. Parker is. Reinnie Leavitt gives what may be the best performance of the show as Ralphie’s loving, long-suffering mom. And for those familiar with the story, we find a completely different ending to the battle of the lamp. Yes, the Old Man still has his leg shattered, so to speak, but the emotional exchange between husband and wife is actually touching.
With the notable exception of the Little Orphan Annie decoder pin, nearly all the fun gags are still there for devoted fans of the original. There’s the What-I-Want-For-Christmas theme, Ralphie helping with the flat (AKA the time Ralphie says the queen mother of all cuss words—the F-dash-dash-dash word), the Scut Farkus affair, the flagpole incident, the worst Santa ever (complete with the slide of death), and even the deranged Easter Bunny. And it’s all narrated beautifully by R. J. Lowe. I hesitate to damn him with such seemingly faint praise, but the reality is Mr. Lowe is so dependably spectacular that his immense talent is almost taken for granted. But the same could probably be said for the entirety of the cast and crew of the show. So many spot-on performances. To get a taste of just how spoiled we are by the quality of the Guild’s productions, all one need do is travel to other areas with community theater troupes. None match the consistent quality of the shows mounted by the Actors Guild. And A Christmas Story: The Musical is no exception.
The fact that this is a musical combined with the seasonal nature of it means it will likely sell out, so you better get your tickets quickly. Opening night was Friday, November 16 at 8pm, with other evening performances on November 17, 23, and 24 and December 7 and 8. There is one matinee at the traditional time of 2:30pm on November 25, though there are also performances available on December 1 at 4:00pm and December 2 at 6:00pm. See this show. You’ll be glad you did.