A Christmas Story, The Musical Sings and Taps its Way into your Heart

theatre review

PHOTO: Craig Schwartz Photography | The South Pasadenan | L to R: Eric Petersen, Kai Edgar, Henry Witcher, and Sabrina Sloan in "A Christmas Story, The Musical" at Center Theatre Group's Ahmanson Theatre December 5 through December 31, 2023.
PHOTO: Craig Schwartz Photography | The South Pasadenan | L to R: Eric Petersen, Kai Edgar, Henry Witcher, and Sabrina Sloan in "A Christmas Story, The Musical" at Center Theatre Group's Ahmanson Theatre December 5 through December 31, 2023.

Something fun, festive, hilarious and heartwarming is happening at the Ahmanson Theatre this holiday season and it’s the musical version of “A Christmas Story”. Since it’s debut in 1983, the MGM movie starring Peter Billingsley, the kid who dreams and plots to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, has become a family tradition with an almost cult following. In 2012, the show was made into a Broadway musical that was nominated for three Tony Awards including Best New Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Book of a Musical. Written by the prolific songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote a few little shows like “Dear Evan Hansen”, “La La Land”, and “The Greatest Showman”, this musical has that familiar touch of singable tunes that entertain while elevating the emotional moments in the story.

PHOTO: Craig Schwartz Photography | The South Pasadenan | From L to R: Jacob Pham, Gabbie Fried, Trent Mills, Jack Casey, Addalie Burns, Juliane Godfrey, Kayden Alexander Koshelev, Michael James, Andrew Ge, Emilie Ong, Izzy Pike, Julia Harnett, Sabrina Sloan, Henry Witcher, Eric Petersen, Kai Edgar, Gabriel Navarro, Zeke Bernier, Greta Rebecca Kleinman, Shelley Regner, Jordan Coates, and Kyle Montgomery in "A Christmas Story, The Musical" at Center Theatre Group's Ahmanson Theatre December 5 through December 31, 2023.
PHOTO: Craig Schwartz Photography | The South Pasadenan | From L to R: Jacob Pham, Gabbie Fried, Trent Mills, Jack Casey, Addalie Burns, Juliane Godfrey, Kayden Alexander Koshelev, Michael James, Andrew Ge, Emilie Ong, Izzy Pike, Julia Harnett, Sabrina Sloan, Henry Witcher, Eric Petersen, Kai Edgar, Gabriel Navarro, Zeke Bernier, Greta Rebecca Kleinman, Shelley Regner, Jordan Coates, and Kyle Montgomery in “A Christmas Story, The Musical” at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre December 5 through December 31, 2023.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, it centers around a young boy named Ralphie in a small 1940’s Indiana town and the stories surrounding the most memorable Christmas of his life – the year he had to have that BB gun –  no matter the substantial obstacles, the biggest being that his Mom thinks he’ll shoot his eye out with something like that. The musical opens with a grown and bespectacled Ralphie doing a radio show about this Christmas – he takes us back to a simpler time, when he and his family were all under one roof and life consisted of chores, looking after his younger brother, evading bullies at school, and plotting ways to achieve his Christmas dream. Rather than merely narrating the proceedings, the older Raphie is really part of the action, watching his younger self with despair, frustration and joy.

PHOTO: Craig Schwartz Photography | The South Pasadenan | From L to R: Addalie Burns, Greta Rebecca Kleinman, Kai Edgar, Kayden Alexander Koshelev, Henry Witcher, Jack Casey, Izzy Pike, Charlie Stover, and Emilie Ong in "A Christmas Story, The Musical" at Center Theatre Group's Ahmanson Theatre December 5 through December 31, 2023.
PHOTO: Craig Schwartz Photography | The South Pasadenan | From L to R: Addalie Burns, Greta Rebecca Kleinman, Kai Edgar, Kayden Alexander Koshelev, Henry Witcher, Jack Casey, Izzy Pike, Charlie Stover, and Emilie Ong in “A Christmas Story, The Musical” at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre December 5 through December 31, 2023.

But truly, one doesn’t have to be a fan of the movie to enjoy this delightful show. It has everything – winning choreography by Warren Carlyle that makes full use of the triple-threat cast including the incredible kids! They tap and they’re just terrific. It’s been a while since we’ve seen tapping in a show at the Ahmanson and it, like the show, feels like a warm, old-timey, Broadway hug! The zippy, toe-tapping Pasek and Paul numbers highlight all the most hilarious and heartwarming moments in the story from a full cowboy extravaganza called “Ralphie to the Rescue” to a fantasy speakeasy number “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” starring Ralphie’s schoolteacher Miss Shields and the incredibly touching numbers like mother’s “Just Like That” and the Christmas Eve song, “A Christmas Story”. I knew I would laugh –  I knew I would be entertained. What I didn’t know is just how much a simple story of a childhood memory could bring up the emotions of my own nostalgia and remind me of what matters most at Christmas time.

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PHOTO: Craig Schwartz Photography | The South Pasadenan | From L to R: Sabrina Sloan, Henry Witcher, Kai Edgar, and Eric Petersen in "A Christmas Story, The Musical" at Center Theatre Group's Ahmanson Theatre December 5 through December 31, 2023.
PHOTO: Craig Schwartz Photography | The South Pasadenan | From L to R: Sabrina Sloan, Henry Witcher, Kai Edgar, and Eric Petersen in “A Christmas Story, The Musical” at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre December 5 through December 31, 2023.

Matt Lenz directs with a deft hand that accentuates the funny while allowing the emotional moments to breathe. Kai Edgar is a terrific Ralphie with a fantastic voice. His easy charm makes him very easy to root for and Eric Peterson as Raphie’s dad is delightful with a rubbery face that is so much fun to watch. His big number, which is a kind of fantasy sequence of him receiving his “major award”, is a showstopper. As mother, Sabrina Sloan brings a calm, steady force to the family, beautifully delivering tender ballads that bring into focus the way mothers keep a family together. Henry Witcher is a natural as little brother Randy, providing some of the funniest sight gags in the show, while Chris Carsten brings warmth and wistful nostalgia to the narrator role of Jean Shepherd.

Shelley Regner makes a funny and dynamic Mrs. Shields, shining in the speakeasy number along with an absolute crackerjack children’s ensemble that includes Zeke Bernier, Addalie Burns, Jack Casey, Jordan Coates, Greta Rebecca Kleinman, Kayden Alexander Koshelev, Emilie Ong, Izzy Pike, Jacob Pham, and Charlie Stover. The adult ensemble is rounded out by Steven-Adam Agdeppa, Gabbie Fried, Andrew Ge, Juliane Godfrey, Julia Harnett, Michael James, Trent Mills, Kyle Montgomery, Gabriel Navarro, and Jane Papageorge, all playing multiple roles including some feisty, cranky elves.

The show is an homage to a bygone era to be sure but what’s fun is that it’s not all pretty – it shows these kids and people, warts and all, with made-up but barely disguised curse words, neighbor feuds, and holidays gone sideways – making it a show that is relatable, incredibly entertaining and touching in unexpected ways.

“A Christmas Story, The Musical” runs through December 31 at The Ahmanson Theatre. Tickets are available through CenterTheatreGroup.org, Audience Services at (213) 972-4400 or in person at the Center Theatre Group Box Offices (at the Ahmanson Theatre) at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012. Performances run Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.