December has finally arrived, marking it officially acceptable for all Christmas lovers to get excited for the fast-approaching holiday season. “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” based on the beloved 1983 film of the same name, is a classic celebratory tale presented by the San Francisco Playhouse. Directed and produced by Susi Damilano, the family-friendly musical endeavors to fill the cold season with a warm glow of hope and love.
The story centers around 9-year-old Ralphie Parker (Jonah Broscow), who has one thing on his Christmas list: an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle. But with less than a month left until Santa’s visit, Ralphie has to overcome endless incidents that might put him on Santa’s naughty list: a triple-dog-dare to lick a frozen flagpole, a C-plus on an assignment, a fight with the bullies, an accidental F-word that slips out of his mouth and even more ridiculous escapades. As incidents pile up in the Parker household, and as Ralphie is continually met with the dreaded phrase, “You’ll shoot your eye out,” the audience follows the journey of the endearing boy in pursuit of his only Christmas wish.
“A Christmas Story” features music and lyrics by Tony- and Oscar-winning duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land”), with musical numbers embedded evenly throughout the well-crafted narrative. The songs are a healthy mix of solos, duets and choruses; the choral parts feature well-coordinated tap dancing, in which most of the cast — young and old — participates. As is expected from award-winning creatives, the score is harmless and easy on the ears; however, it was disappointing that there was not one song that stood out from the rest as the signature number of the show, no tune for audiences to hum as they exit the theater.
Because the story is centered upon a 9-year-old, “A Christmas Story” features a wealth of talented young actors. These young talents show much potential on stage, especially in their acting and dancing. Their singing, however, proved to be less than impressive. Many of the numbers require harmonies as well as sustained high notes, during which the children came across as shaky and unprepared. Perhaps their young age could qualify as an excuse, but shows such as “Finding Neverland” and “Billy Elliot” have previously staged younger children who were exceptional in all of the aspects of the triple threat of performing arts: singing, dancing and acting. It is true that “A Christmas Story” is smaller-scale, but preparedness for the stage should depend on neither the production scale nor the budget.
Because the musical had just opened for previews Nov. 22, it appeared that the majority of the talent needed more time to get used to the stage. Small line flubs and tiny prop mishaps could be spotted by any audience member paying close enough attention. The live orchestra situated backstage made more than a few mistakes, with the brass section constantly missing notes that created multiple discordant interruptions throughout the show. Both the cast and the orchestra could benefit from more stage rehearsals and practice.
The musical is shown in a small theater on the second floor of Kensington Park Hotel, and the shrewd use of the small space and the clever design of the rotating set deserve recognition. Also notable is the comic relief provided by the role of the Old Man (Ryan Drummond), whose multiple satirical interjections prompted laughter from the adult members of the audience.
Whether it was a puzzle, a pool or a pony, having an unlikely item on the Christmas list as a child is a story that resonates with every audience. Despite its shortcomings, “A Christmas Story” is a well-attempted effort to narrate this story in an intimate way, spreading a warm message about the meaning of family during the holiday season.
“A Christmas Story: The Musical” will run at San Francisco Playhouse through Jan. 13, 2018.
Contact Jennifer Jeong at [email protected].