Lauren Kent, Jim Hesselman, & Jillian Prefach in A Christmas Story – The Musical. Photo: DDP

A Christmas Story – The Musical

Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Book by Joseph Robinette
From the Screenplay by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark and the stories of Jean Shepherd
Directed by Matthew Brennan

A review by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2021, by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

It’s been said that there is no story that can’t be turned into a musical. For every obvious piece of source material, such as the movie Hairspray or the story of Cinderella, or Anna and The King of Siam, there is a long shot like American Psycho, Sweeney Todd, or Carrie. A musical based on original material should serve to complement and expand on its source, but should arguably stay true to its spirit.

This makes A Christmas Story – The Musical somewhat difficult to pin down in a review. Derby Dinner’s latest offering is an energetic and well-performed spectacle, peopled by an amazing cast of children and adults, and is never less than entertaining. But when comparing it to the sweet little film comedy it’s based on, it just seems way too big and spectacular.

Stringing together a number of short stories from memoirist Jean Shepherd, the film and the musical dramatize the plight of young Ralphie (Lincoln Fogarty, in a simply outstanding youth performance) in his efforts to obtain a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas in an unspecified year in the 1940s. The original film was funny and whimsical, sweet and charming, and grounded in a little boy’s view of reality. 

The musical, on the other hand, is enormous, loud, and bombastic. Calling it energetic doesn’t begin to describe the enormous, full-scale musical numbers that spring up out of Ralphie’s imagination. For every sweet number that emerges organically from the story, like “What a Mother Does” and “Just Like That” (the two songs performed by the amazing Jillian Prefach as Ralphie’s mother), we get enormous showstoppers like “Ralphie to the Rescue!” or “A Major Award” (in which Ralphie’s father, played to the hilt by Jim Hesselman, sings and dances with a chorus of leg lamps) which border on the absurd.

Other numbers fall somewhere between the extremes. “When You’re a Wimp”, an ode to avoiding bullies, and “Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana”, in which the children anticipate the arrival of Santa Claus, are excellent showcases for the talents of the amazing children in the cast. The same goes for “Sticky Situation”, a musicalization of one of the film’s most memorable sequences (and providing fodder for a great performance by another young actor, Dallas Edwards, as the triple-dog-dared Flick).

Carey Wiger is fun as Jean Shepherd himself, narrating the proceedings and sometimes participating. Youngster Alan Niemeier is adorable as Ralphie’s younger brother Randy, and Lauren Kent steals scenes as schoolteacher Miss Shields, buttoned-down until called upon to vamp it up in the “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” number. The whole cast does an amazing job with the material, and director Matthew Brennan keeps things moving at a brisk pace.

If you are a fan of the original movie you could do worse than giving this show a watch. Enough of the charm and wit manages to shine through the more over-the-top flourishes of the musical. It was certainly a crowd pleaser!

(Side note, I mentioned above the performances of Lincoln Fogarty, Alan Niemeier, and Dallas Edwards. These were the performers on the night I attended. All of the children are double cast so they may or may not be the actors you will see.)

Featuring Drew Ashley, Dick Baker, Hadley Bauer, Kyle Braun, Molly Dauk, Dallas Edwards, Lincoln Fogarty, Deacon Grasty, Beckettt Gunderson, Carter Hadley, Locke Hargis, Jim Hesselman, Caylen Judd, Kennedy Julian, Elijah Kelso, Lauren Kent, Jack Masterson, Paul McElroy, KB Merchant, Asa Milliner, Violet Newkirk, Alton Niemeier, Zoe Petiprin, Jillian Prefach, Channing Rivera, Emmie Siergel, Colton Smith, Sierra Stacy, Audrey Stewart, Taylor Thomas, Shaun White, Cary Wiger, and Holly Wilder.

A Christmas Story – The Musical

November 10 – December 30, 2021

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN  47129

Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.