By PAM HARBAUGH
Yesterday’s innocence rings out loud and tickles the funny bone in Titusville Playhouse’s endearing and entertaining production of “A Christmas Story: The Musical.”
Based on the 1983 movie, “A Christmas Story” (itself based on Jean Shepherd’s semi-autobiographical novel In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash), this musical has music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Its book is by Joseph Robinette, known for his many stage adaptations of classic children’s stories. In 2013, the musical was nominated for three Tony Awards and six Drama Desk Awards, including best musical.
Set in a small Indiana town in December 1940, the story revolves around Ralphie, a nine-year old who dreams of having a Red Ryder air rifle. Despite maternal warnings that he “could put an eye out,” Ralphie rhapsodizes over the virtues of owning such a fierce item and schemes on how to get it.
This musical comedy has all the elements of the film, which delighted audiences so much on opening night that some patrons uttered lines out loud before the actors on stage said them. So, yes, there’s a bit of the sacred pop culture litany to this story which so many hold dear.
Director Steven Heron takes the story’s sweet naivete and folds it into the production. Not despite of…but because of the swarms of excited youngsters crowding out the sightlines (some who forget to put on their shoes), the frequent shifting of massive scenic units, the one princess dress amidst the volumes of red plaid pajamas…the sheer earnestness of this production will charm the most curmudgeonly.
Professional actors Patrick Ryan Sullivan and Paul Padilla round out rough edges by two of the most warm and engaging performances you’ll see this season.
Mr. Sullivan brings poignancy and delight to his portrayal of the narrator, Mr. Shepherd — the author mentioned above and the actor who narrated the 1983 movie — as he recalls on the innocent days of his youth. Ralphie is the “Every-Child” beloved by his parents and protected by his community.
Mr. Padilla delivers a comic masterpiece as Ralphie’s father – “The Old Man.” This skilled and talented actor enlivens the stage with comic energy, nuanced humor and tenderness. His “Major Award” sung after his character receives the famous leg lamp is a show-stopper.
Elijah McGough is ideal as wide-eyed and sometimes befuddled Ralphie. His real-life mother, Traci McGough, reveals the loving core of the on-stage mother as well, especially in “What a Mother Does.”
As Ralphie’s younger brother, Randy, Aidan Holihan shows the same rare stage appeal as he did as Pugsley in the Henegar’s “Addams Family: The Musical.” Mindy Ward brings tap-dancing pizazz and quick wit to Miss Shields, Ralphie’s teacher.
It may not be a Red Ryder air rifle, but with those big red bows festooning the stage, “A Christmas Story: The Musical” is TPI’s heartwarming present to its patrons and its town — an loving way of wishing all a Merry Christmas.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “A Christmas Story: The Musical” runs through Dec. 21 at Titusville Playhouse, 301 Julia Street, Titusville. It performs at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays and Dec. 20. Tickets are $22 to $25, with $2 discounts for children, military and seniors. Service charge of $2 may apply. Call 321-268-1125 or visit www.TitusvillePlayhouse.com