If you need a shot of festive sparkle, and a reminder of what Christmas is all about, the San Francisco Playhouse is only too happy to oblige. A Christmas Story: The Musical is joyful, at times touching, it will make you smile – and laugh out loud. A perfect production for the time of year, it’ll lift your spirits and put the proverbial song in your heart.
Based on the 1983 film, A Christmas Story, the show – which was nominated for three Tony Awards in 2013 – has music and lyrics by Tony- and Oscar-winning Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, with a book by Joseph Robinette. The Playhouse production is in the very capable hands of Susi Damilano.
The story, set in the 1940s, centers around young Ralphie Parker, who more than anything wants an “official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model BB Gun” for Christmas. The on-stage action is narrated by an adult Ralphie, recalling this eventful episode in his life (an easy-going and humorous performance from Christopher Reber). So great is Ralphie’s desire for this particular gift that he is led to devise one plan after another, in an uphill battle to convince his adoring (but practical) mother, The Old Man (his no-nonsense father) as well as a less-than-jolly in-store Santa, of the benefits of owning one of these rifles.
These plans lead us on a merry song-and-dance through Ralphie’s day-to-day life in the run-up to Christmas – as he and his younger brother Randy (a fine performance from Jake Miller), behave as typically badly as young boys do – despite being cajoled by their typically perfect and honey-voiced mother whose sole purpose in life is to please her husband and children – a lovely portrayal by Abby Haug.
The star of the show was undoubtedly Mario Gianni Herrera – a young man with a tremendous singing voice and what would appear to be a great future ahead of him – as Ralphie. Utterly immersed in his role, he had the audience in the palm of his hand, from the little nuances so typical of his character, to the great baleful stares of helplessness as he’s hit by one setback after another, yet he still manages to muster his creative instincts to devise yet another ploy to get what he so badly wants.
Ryan Drummond is always marvelous, and hugely entertaining as the pretty ordinary suburban father who longs to burst out of his normality and achieve something really special in life. His reaction to winning a perfectly hideous lamp in a crossword competition says it all.
Another superb performance came from Katrina Lauren McGraw as the schoolteacher, Miss Shields, and the talented youngsters who played Ralphie’s friends – and bullying enemies – were obviously having a tremendous time, singing and dancing their way through the whole performance.
From the Creative team, Music Director Dave Dobrusky and his musicians provided a fabulous backing to all this hilarity, and the set – as ever – was skilfully designed and manipulated.
If you love a good musical, the Playhouse – with Christmas spirit in abundance – is the place to go.
A Christmas Story: The Musical runs through January 13. For tickets, visit the San Francisco Playhouse website or call the box office on (415) 677-9596.
Photographs by Jessica Palopoli