As I got comfortable in my seat for the Monday-night dress rehearsal of Quad City Music Guild's A Christmas Story: The Musical, I was fully expecting a 24-hour marathon, as well as my ingesting the show only in sporadic moments throughout the day in between kitchen visits to fill up on ham and chocolate. That's customarily how I enjoy the film version. Alas, there was no marathon, or ham, or chocolate. But there was a fun production filled with holiday cheer - and aside from the addition of songs, the theatrical version is a mirror image of the movie.
If any of you are unfamiliar with A Christmas Story, you should really sit with yourselves for a moment and ponder why that is, but the stage musical delivers all of the iconic characters and moments we remember from the film. This touching story is about young Ralphie Parker (Joseph Brune) and his quest to get the ultimate Christmas present on his list (say it with me now): an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred-shot-range model air rifle. But it also delivers great messages about family and the memories we make.
Music Guild's production, directed by Bob Williams, will no doubt leave you reminiscing about your own family Christmases. At the very beginning of the show, we meet our narrator played by Kevin Pieper, whose voice was quite reminiscent of Jean Shepherd's in the film - very familiar and pleasing to hear. Pieper then brings us into the Parkers' home (with Williams also responsible for the neat set deign), where Brune and stage brother David Cobert, as Randy, shared a playful energy that lasted throughout the whole show. They sounded like real brothers arguing back and forth ("Was not!" "Was, too!" "Was not!" "Was, too!"), but also had some tender moments, as when they worked together to fix their father's prized possession. And while Brune had some volume troubles during his songs at Monday's rehearsal, there were also moments in which he was in very strong voice, particularly in "Ralphie to the Rescue," where he imagines himself an old-west cowboy with his new BB gun.
Raphie's dad, The Old Man (Tim Dominicus), was played with a little bit of a softer edge than the film's Old Man had, as Dominicus' portrayal found the Parker father greeting people with a smile instead of a furrowed brow. But his song "The Genius on Cleveland Street" won me over, revealing Dominicus' character to be more lovable dunce than grouch. Shana Kulhavy takes on the role of the kids' mother, a lovely and gentle soul who keeps the house running, and the performer did indeed demonstrate lovely vocal tone in the touching songs "What Mother Does" and "Just Like That."
Kudos, too, to designer Connie McGinn and the show's costume department. From the pink bunny suit right down to the stocking hats, the costumes were spot-on and just what the movie's fans could have hoped for.
The musical score doesn't quite boast any tunes you'll be singing in your head the rest of the night, but it is full of toe-tapping numbers to get you in the holiday spirit, with the strongest of them "When You're a Wimp," performed after Ralphie and Randy get picked on by bullies Farkus (Ben Klocke) and Dill (Aiden Perry). And it was fun moment when Owen Perry, who plays Flick, tries to sing with his tongue stuck to a flag pole - he was both inaudible and really funny.
Yet the most touching song of the evening was the show's title tune and closing number "Christmas Story," which reminds us that during the craziness of the holidays, it's important to take the time to enjoy them, because these are the memories we keep with us forever. After A Christmas Story: The Musical, you'll surely be nostalgic recalling your own Christmas memories, and if you have children, you'll be eager to tuck them in a little tighter that night. Whether you've seen the film or not, Music Guild's production will leave you appreciating the season, and knowing that family is what it's all about.
A Christmas Story: The Musical runs at the Prospect Park Auditorium (1584 34th Avenue, Rock Island) through December 6, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)762-6610 or visiting QCMusicGuild.com.