Flip through the channels on Christmas Day and it’s almost impossible to miss “A Christmas Story.” Since 1997, TBS has aired the nostalgic 1983 film for 24-hours straight beginning on Christmas Eve. I’ve never watched the movie from start to finish, but I’m certain that I’ve seen every scene at least a dozen times over those 21 years.
Now, if you have that perfect family and don’t need an escape to the television on Christmas (right!), here’s the gist of the story:
Told through a series of a vignettes, adult Ralphie Parker reminisces about Christmas 1940, when he was 9 years old. All he wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model BB gun. Ralphie's desire is rejected by his mother, his teacher and even the Santa Claus at the local department store, all delivering the same warning, "You'll shoot your eye out."
Along the way, he shares encounters with his classmates, the neighborhood bully and “the old man,” who reveres the kitschy “leg lamp” he wins in a mail order contest.
It should come as no surprise that this classic, like so many films, would eventually be adapted for the stage. In 2009, playwright Joseph Robinette and composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land”) brought “A Christmas Story” to Broadway. A seasonal national tour has followed since 2014 and the musical was broadcast live on Fox in 2017.
Slow Burn Theatre Co. won the rights for the Southeast regional premiere, which opened last weekend at the Broward Center, and fans of the original will not be disappointed.
Robinette, Pasek and Paul stick pretty closely to the movie storyline, inserting big dance numbers at the most opportune times. Armed with his Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model rifle, the lad rescues his teacher from imaginary rustlers in “Ralphie to the Rescue.” The Old Man takes a turn with a high-kicking chorus line sporting shining leg lamps in “A Major Award.” The children demonstrate professional tap dancing skills in a speakeasy setting during “To the Nightclub.” And, we can’t forget the cynical department store elves, eager to go home after a long day in “Up on Santa’s Lap.”
Director and choreographer Patrick Fitzwater’s dance numbers are clever and campy and perfectly suited to the abilities of his ensemble, especially exceptionally talented children in the 27-member cast.
Michael Norman, a national tour vet, easily carries the production as Ralphie. He bears little resemblance to Peter Billingsley (star of the film), but he displays the requisite poise and charisma to easily command the Amaturo Theater stage. Watch out for this young man with the outsize voice and nimble dance moves because he has a promising future in the theater.
Slow Burn co-founder Matthew Korinko has settled in supporting roles in recent years, but he’s the bedrock of this production as the adult Jean Shepherd (Ralphie). His performance is warm and he relishes the role of storyteller in every scene. Amy Miller Brennan (Mother) is one of the most talented musical theater performers in South Florida and her warm soprano elicits goosebumps every time she comforts her sons in song.
The role of “The Old Man” offers perhaps the biggest departure from the character originally depicted in the film. He’s not quite the gruff, stern bear and in Tony Edgerton’s hands, he’s also likeable and nurturing. Edgerton, who also has a soaring voice, entertains in “A Major Prize.”
The show isn’t without its flaws. The writers could and should have taken more license with the story, but Fitzwater and his team don’t allow any innate shortcomings to hinder them. Slow Burn Theatre Co.’s “A Christmas Story” is an elaborately wrapped present that doesn’t disappoint after that paper is torn away. Tickets would make a perfect stocking stuffer, if you can wait until after Christmas.
Slow Burn Theatre Co. presents “A Christmas Story: The Musical” through Dec. 29 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets start at $49 at BrowardCenter.org.