Remarkable Cast Brings Great Holiday Joy to Fort Collins

“A Christmas Story – the Musical” is Delightful Tale of a Youth Longing for a Red Ryder BB Gun.

Reviewed by Tom Jones, December 9, 2016

The beguiling charm of “A Christmas Story – The Musical” does not wait to enchant, little-by- little. The magic is there from the moment the author, Jean Shepherd, begins his story of growing up in the 1940s. Daniel Harkins is terrific as Jean Shepherd, narrating the semi-fictitious tale of himself – the young “Ralphie” of the play.

John Jankow wins a prize! Photo credit Christina Gressinau

Christmas is nearly here, and Ralphie is obsessed with his desire to receive the Red Ryder BB gun of his dreams. He is concerned that this goal just might be beyond his reach. His parents don’t want to even discuss it. His school teacher doesn’t help. Even the department store Santa repeats everyone’s concerns, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

The movie version of the basic story appeared in 1983, and became an immediate hit with boys everywhere who dream beyond the understanding of their parents. Onstage, Ralphie’s dreams become incredibly fun production numbers. When fantasizing about his ability to save the world if he had a BB gun, “Ralphie to the Rescue” becomes a heartfelt anthem of achievement.

While Hawkins’ wonderful narration as the author binds the story together, the entire cast is nothing short of amazing. Elijah Walker Brandt portrays the young Ralphie. Brandt is a talent to be reckoned with. He can act. He can sing. He can dance. He is 12 years old!

Charlotte Campbell, as Ralphie’s mother, is a newcomer to MAC. She is memorable as the long-suffering, kindly wife and mother. John Jankow is enormously entertaining as the bombastic father who rails through life’s pitfalls of a creaky furnace, a creaky car, barking neighborhood dogs. He has visions of becoming somebody famous. Cassidy Cousineau played the role of Ralphie’s teacher, Ms. Shields. She is also credited as being the dance captain, and is a delight.

Ralphie to the Rescue. Photo credit Christina Gressinau

There are many young persons in the cast, and all are very good. They are an especially-talented group. They are completely at ease on stage, and convincing in their roles, and remarkable singers and dancers. The role of Ralphie’s brother Randy is double-cast. I saw Ryan Fisher in the part, and he is believable.

Director Michael Lasris is highly respected for his skills as a director, an actor, and as a choreographer. He uses those extensive talents to provide an endearing look at life in Indiana nearly a century ago. The Great Depression is coming to an end, and World War II has not yet raised its angry head. Life is presented as a close-knit family who eats meals together, go for rides in the car, are angry at the neighbor’s dogs, and whose major conflict is no more challenging than buying a Christmas tree. I didn’t feel like I was watching people act. I was watching life happen.

Mayhem on the school playground. Photo credit Christina Gressinau

The movie’s classic scene is re-created on stage, when one of the students must follow through on a “triple-dog-dare” from the playground and stick his tongue on the freezing flagpole. The young students are hesitant to “squeal” on anyone involved. Grade school classroom has never appeared more real, as students help and torment each other in the same moment.

The set is very good. The music is not well known, but immediately pleasing. Jalyn Courtenay Webb provides excellent work as music director.

This is a particularly endearing production. I can’t think of a better way to spend a few holiday hours than becoming immersed in this evening of heartwarming enchantment. Some reviewers fault me for “liking shows too much.” Sorry about that. But when I see something as delightful and well done as this show, I just can’t help myself.

“A Christmas Story – the Musical”
When: Through December 31, 2016
Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun at 6:00 p.m.
Matinees Saturday and Sunday at 12:00
For Tickets: 970/225-2555
Online:  www.midtownartscenter.com

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