‘A Christmas Story – The Musical’ shoots its way onto BDT Stage

This is a good time of year to ponder what it is we love so much about repetition. Whether it’s the nine-millionth playing of “Frosty the Snowman” or the 75th time you’ve helped trim the tree or light a menorah, there’s a comfort and joy in recognizing that, even with “everything else going on,” we’ll return to these things on this day, or month or whatever.

It doesn’t even have to be good. No one would argue that “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” is anything other than a terrible song, but as it comes up on the yuletide playlist every year, like “Family Circus” comics we come together over how much we hate it. It’s as if the DJs or streaming music service playlist creators feel compelled to offset classics like “Silver Bells” and (insert your favorite holiday song) with something wretched to make us appreciate the good stuff.

This is, of course, a great time of year to revisit old favorites live on stage. One of the early entries this year is at BDT Stage, Boulder’s dinner theater, which mounted “A Christmas Story – The Musical”— you know, that story about the kid with the BB gun, set to music.

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Back to Indiana

“A Christmas Story” is based on writer/radio host Jean Shepherd’s recollections of growing up in middle-class Indiana in the 1940s. His stories about one memorable Christmas in his childhood was made into a film in 1983, and few people saw it. Over the years, however, it became something of a cult classic, aided by repetitive showings on cable channels and culminating in TNT starting to air the damn thing 24 hours a day over Christmas Eve.

It was made into a stage play in 2000, which my son Andy and I got intimately familiar with in 2011, when we played Ralphie and The Old Man in a production at the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre. The house used in the film is now some kind of museum, you can buy leg-lamp paraphernalia to hang on your tree, and everyone will know what it is.

Love it, hate it or fall somewhere in between, “A Christmas Story” has become a uniquely American classic. A musical version, appearing in 2012, was inevitable, and there was even a live airing of the show on Fox in 2017.

A lavish production

BDT Stage veteran Scott Beyette directed this production and also plays The Old Man. There are a lot of moving parts, a large cast, some enormous set pieces and a ton of scene changes, and Beyette herded all of it into a very nice package. There were a few opening-night hiccups, but I’m sure BDT Stage will have this one humming smoothly in short order. If you enjoy “A Christmas Story” in any of its forms, you’ll certainly have a good time at this production, which rivals just about anything else I’ve seen at BDT Stage.

Fans of the film will notice a few different things in the musical, not all of them in the plus column. To make way for the musical numbers, there’s a good deal less development of some of the more interesting characters — notably Scut Farkus and his toadie, Grover Dill. Miss Shields’ character, who memorably transformed into a witch in the film after giving Ralphie a C+ on his essay, instead launches into a full-blown speakeasy number that, while well done, didn’t make a ton of sense to me or Andy.

Shepherd’s original stories are very much about the friends (and enemies) who influenced his childhood, and it never feels like the kids in this show get the attention they deserve. The famous scene where Ralphie’s friend Flick unwisely accepts a dare to stick his tongue to a frozen pole comes much earlier in the film version, helping to establish how these kids see their world. It doesn’t show up until the beginning of Act II in the musical, by which time we maybe don’t care as much about Flick’s plight since we don’t really know the character.

As is sometimes the case with large casts involving child actors, there can be some unevenness in the performances. BDT veteran Joanie Brosseau-Rubald has an enormous stage presence and a powerful voice and she commands every scene she’s in. The role of Ralphie is shared by Ned Swartz and Miles Shaw, and while whichever one was on stage opening night was a capable young actor, he had a quieter presence that didn’t quite match some of the high-energy musical numbers and performers.

As the narrator, Jean Shepherd, BDT veteran Wayne Kennedy does a nice job as the avuncular guide to his childhood, filling in bits of narrative and commentary where needed. Beyette’s Old Man trades in some of the crustiness people may recall from Darren McGavin’s turn in the film for a much more energetic performance that peaks during the big leg-lamp number “A Major Award.”

Overall, this is a strong production that’ll be a ton of fun for anyone who can’t get enough of “A Christmas Story” or, for the younger set, hasn’t yet been steeped in its all-pervasive lore in the Christmas canon.

The show runs through Jan. 5.

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