(Cover Photo: The Parker Family in Theatre at the Mount's production of "A Christmas Story". Photo credit: Paige Crane)
By Kevin T. Baldwin
GARDNER: “A Christmas Story” a musical in two acts by Joseph Robinette and score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Presented by Theatre at the Mount. Mount Wachusett Community College, 444 Green Street, Gardner, MA 01440. Performances: Nov. 29, 30, Dec. 6 & 7 at 8:00pm. Dec. 1 & 8 at 2:00pm. Special Sensory-Friendly Performance: Dec. 7 at 2:00pm. Ticket Prices: Evening $22, Matinee $17, Student (available by phone only) $15 (age 16 and younger, or MWCC student). For tickets go to www.mwcc.edu/tam or call 978-630-9388 for more information.
Book by Joseph Robinette. Music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Director: David Allen Prescott. Music Director: Bob Healey. Choreographer: Kimberly Soel.
Cast Includes: Francis Freel, Ethan Stack, Mike Ross, Dawn Ross, Andrew Cochrell, Caitlin Sausville, Ryan Rollo, Josh Cochrell, Caleb Cochrell, Gavin Finn, Andy Desisto, Austin Stacy, Brooklyn McDonald, Mindy Lordan, Kathy Taylor, Leila Lundsted, Amelia Newton, Michael Kozloski, Joe Carpenter, Elijah Despres, Alan Couture, Blake Ross, Kylan Tremblay, Jovan Tremblay, Rachel Worden, Saybrooke Ross, Kyleigh Breen, Gianna Doherty, Charlotte Landry, Ellie Landry, Scarlett Desisto, Emma Roche, Kaden Scopelliti, Jillian Whitney, Kristen Licht, Rachel Twiss, Michelle Heffner, Jacob Giardina.
Since premiering in 1983, the Bob Clark film, "A Christmas Story," has become a holiday staple spawning several stage adaptations, including the one being presented this holiday season by Theatre at the Mount (TATM) starting this weekend (Nov. 29).
Based on Jean Shepherd's semi-fictional anecdotes from his 1966 book “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash,” this stage adaptation features a book by Joseph Robinette and score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
According to the TATM production director David Allen Prescott, there were several elements which drew him to direct this version of the show.
“They (Pasek and Paul) really created a lovely score for this show, and it offers a little bit of everything,” Prescott says, indicating how the songwriting duo would also be involved in probably their most notable work for the Broadway smash, “Dear Evan Hansen.”
“I always loved the film when I was a child, and was always drawn to the eccentricity of the iconic leg lamp,” says Prescott. “It was an exciting prospect to tackle this piece that took the classic film and infused it with the feel of classic Broadway.”
Prescott is a veteran of numerous shows at Theatre at the Mount, including last year’s production of “We Will Rock You,” which he recounts as one of his favorite TATM shows.
“It was one of those productions where all of the right elements come together, and you get to create something very unique and special,” Prescott says, eluding to a similar feeling for this latest production.
According to Prescott, there are “glitzy production numbers, touching solo ballads and beautiful ensemble songs that run the gamut of Broadway styles.”
“With ‘A Christmas Story’, you have a source material that you’re expected to pay tribute to and, as an individual who appreciates that source material, it’s a welcome challenge in itself,” Prescott says.
The story conveyed to the audience primarily through one voice: that of Ralphie Parker as an adult.
Ralphie reminisces about one specific Christmas when he was nine years-old. The only thing he wanted for Christmas that year?
A Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle.
What follows is a whole lot of wonderfully crazy antics in Ralphie's community with friends and family as Ralphie does everything in his power to get his most sought after air rifle.
“This is a big, intricate production,” Prescott says, specifying, “No single part of this show is simple on its own and, when everything is put together, there’s a lot expected of this cast and crew. So, there’s definitely a sense of pride in our team and our cast for the fantastic product we’ve put forward.”
Prescott described some of the challenges working with the narrative device in the staging.
“It was actually a fun challenge to find how Jean Shepard (via the adult Ralphie character as written) would bob and weave through the action throughout the piece,” Prescott says. ”Having him present physically and not just vocally gives us a unique opportunity to see his emotions as he relives these treasured memories, and the results are very charming, and often touching.”
Another challenge with “A Christmas Story,” according to Prescott, is that it follows a very specific musical structure.
“It is very much a modern Broadway musical in that it’s designed to move seamlessly,” Prescott says. “There are no prolonged breaks for scene changes, and the original production relied heavily on automated set pieces.”
Making sure that not only the cast but his TATM creative team involved would have all of the set elements to do the show justice as written was important to Prescott, while indicating the show must also be able to achieve swift, smooth transitional scene changes.
“It has been a huge challenge,” Prescott says, “But our cast and crew have worked tirelessly to pull together all of the intricate staging details required.”
The "Mount-ed" production, according to Prescott, features a “very active ensemble,” taking on multiple roles throughout the show, providing every one of his cast members a moment to shine.
“Half of our cast are children and they are absolutely some of the most talented young performers I’ve ever worked with,” Prescott stipulates. “We’re also very lucky to have Mike and Dawn Ross (as Mother and The Old Man), and it’s been a pleasure to watch their real-life love infuse that relationship.”
Prescott also points out how actor Ethan Stack, who plays Ralphie, is a relative newcomer to theatre in the area and Prescott says, “He has taken this incredibly weighty role and given it everything he has. It’s really just such a pleasure to watch these talented performers work.”
Working with this cast, Prescott proudly proclaims, “This has been one of the most effortless directing experiences I’ve had when it comes to the cast.”
Counting himself very fortunate to be able to cast “remarkable young actors, and to put hem onstage besides seasoned adult performers,” Prescott says to watch them “all build off of one another” has been equally rewarding.
“This cast has delivered every step of the way, and really paved the way for the production’s success,” Prescott says.
In the end, as Prescott points out, the most “resonant change” between the original film and the TATM musical adaptation is that “there’s a whole lot of heart.”
“We get all of our favorite moments from the film, and we don’t put forward anything that gets too saccharine,” Prescott says. “But this cast gets some beautiful moments to really show the love and joy in our childhoods that, perhaps, reveal themselves most clearly at the holidays."
"I hope it inspires audiences to put that love out into the world this holiday season.”
Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)