Douglas Mayo reviews A Christmas Story, a musical by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Joseph Robinette now playing at Waterloo East Theatre.
Based on the 1983 film of the same name, A Christmas Story is a wonderful take on childhood in a mid-American town in the 1940's. Centering on Ralphie, his brother Randy and their parents, the musical Revolves around Ralphie and this quest to get a BB Gun for Christmas.
We'd probably question the choice of the gun itself in a modern climate, but so much of the charm of this musical is drawn from the period setting. In a time before TV, computers and mass media, real imagination was king and seen through that lens, the idiosyncrasies of Ralphie, his family and friends make A Christmas Story a delight.
With a score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen, The Greatest Showman) A Christmas Story has a bright catchy score that perfectly punctuates Joseph Robinette's book. In the capable hands of Inga Davis-Rutter and her small (but uncredited) band A Christmas Story is a two hour fun family musical that keeps its pace throughout.
Felix Hepburn perfectly captures the spirit of young Ralphie alongside Ethan Manwaring as his hapless brother Randy. Lucyelle Cliffe and Simon Willmont complete the picture as Ralphie's Mother and “Old Man”, peppering these characters with enough idiosyncrasies and truth to make them real stand-outs in this production. The simplicity of their relationships is perfectly captured in the number “Just Like That” – nothing is ever as bad as it seems.
As Ralphie's teacher Miss Shields, Jenny Gayner adds some razzamatazz, but this seems a little out of place with the simplicity of the rest of the story. Garry Freer as Jean Shepherd narrates from his current day position as a radio personality. Broadly styled, these narratives provide an interesting modern day observance of the 1940's action.
A Christmas Story also benefits from some great moments with Ralphie's friends (and enemies) and Bradley Riches, Alfie Turnbull, Daniel Osei, Ethan Quinn, Chloe Weir and Alice Bonney delight throughout.
Director Gerald Armin has once again compressed the essence of a large Broadway musical onto an Off West End stage. It's never an easy feat but aside from a few slow transitions it works. You can't help but wonder though what this production might be like with a bit more stage space to breathe.
A Christmas Story is very difficult to dislike. It's a simple but charming story, with slightly mad but easy to identify parents and enough kids to keep you in schmaltz to next Christmas and there's nothing wrong with that.
Until 22 December 2018