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ACT’s “A Christmas Story, The Musical” delights audiences with familiar, beloved characters

Regular readers of my reviews will know that I have a soft spot for holiday shows. What you should also know is that “A Christmas Story” is my all-time holiday favorite. No matter the craziness or chaos of the season, I find time to sit and watch Ralphie and his family play out the family drama of a 1940s Christmas year after year. And I never miss a chance to laugh in all the right spots, or chime in with a familiar line of dialogue.

Mitchell Area Community Theatre has produced a newer version adapted from the film for its 2016 holiday offering.  “A Christmas Story — The Musical” is written by Joseph Robinette with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Although the songs will not be familiar to theatre-goers, all of the beloved characters are present and in fine form.

Director James C. Van Oort and his crew have well cast this Christmas classic. Ralphie, a most believable Thaden Milliken-Auch, is the center of the story as he pursues his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. The narrator, Jean Shepherd (who in real life wrote the series of essays on which the movie and play versions are based), is channeled by ACT regular Troy Magnuson. The parents (Kevin Carroll and Kara Kvanli) do most of the heavy musical lifting and deliver some fine performances. A large group of children and adults serve in multiple ensemble roles. A stand-out performance is delivered by young Thane Howlett as Ralphie’s little brother, Randy. I’ve seldom seen an actor “break” the audience barrier as cutely as he did when looking for reactions to his “little piggy” scene.

Song highlights include Carroll’s fine baritone singing “The Genius of Cleveland Street” and “A Major Award,” a number that was enhanced by some entertaining choreography involving the show’s iconic leg lamp. “It All Comes Down to Christmas” is an ensemble number that allows the audience to follow the timeline, leading up to the all-important Christmas morning event.  Will Ralphie receive the gift of his dreams? And will he shoot his eye out?

The set, constructed by a large number of volunteers, is minimal and serviceable.  There are some great props employed including the packing crate for the major award and the Christmas turkey. Noel Ahlers and Jessica Mefferd’s costumes enhance the overall tone of the show. The choreography works well, especially for a group of youngsters without much dance experience.

We can probably all conjure in our memories our own “Christmas Stories,” of that one special gift that showed up just when we thought it never would. If you had a Santa in your life, or a or a parent who cared enough to make sure that one memorable Christmas would be yours forever, then you are in good company with Ralphie. And this Christmas, as you celebrate the season with family, friends, presents and maybe even some Chinese turkey, remember that the awe is not inspired by the gift itself; it is inspired by the giver. Merry Christmas to all!

The show by Area Community Theatre has performances Friday, Dec. 9, and Saturday, Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 11, at 2 p.m. at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the theatre or more information is available at 996-9137 or www.mitchellact.org.

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