by Terrance Mc Arthur
Did you ever get a Christmas present that was so good you wished you could get it next year, too? The Good Company Players just gave me that wish. A Christmas Story: the musical returns to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater through January 8, and what a Christmas present it is!
You remember the movie A Christmas Story, right? How Ralphie wanted a Red Ryder BB gun? How everybody said, “You’ll shoot your eye out?” How Ralphie’s dad won a sexy-looking prize? How Ralphie went to see Santa? How his friend was dared to stick his tongue on a frozen flagpole? All those things, and more, are in the musical, and there are songs and dances, too.
Connor Pofahl is Ralphie, a boy of the 1930s whose great desire is the air rifle he covets. Connor is wistful, manipulative but frustrated, and charming, putting heart into the character. Ralphie was the alter ego of the late Jean Shepherd, radio yarnspinner and author of Playboy magazine stories that became the book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Shepherd helped transform it into the movie A Christmas Story (which he narrated). Playwright Joseph Robinette and songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul turned the movie script into a Broadway musical, which we lucky people get to enjoy.
Dan Pessano portrays Jean Shepherd, as he did last year. He introduces and comments on the action, wryly letting the audience in on the workings of life in Indiana during the Great Depression. Dan is a metal detector of jokes, locating all the humor in a line and bringing it out to be seen.
Teddy Maldonado returns as The Old Man, Ralphie’s father, waging a never-ending battle with the furnace, his car, and the neighbor’s dogs, punctuated by streaks of unintelligible profanity. The Old Man is obsessive about the contests he enters in hopes of prizedom and riches, but Maldonado makes him ultimately human. Jessica Sarkisian rejoins him as Ralphie’s mother, showing more of the long-suffering Melinda Dillon brought to the film role.
Vinny Folmer is suitably whiny as Ralphie’s little brother. Peter Hartley and the always-enthusiastic Colby Priest are winning as Ralphie’s school chums. Laurie Pessano once again shows hoofing prowess as Miss Shields, Ralphie’s teacher.
I don’t know if it’s something about the role of Santa’s head elf in the department store that inspires performers, or if it’s the casting and directing prowess of Emily Pessano and Robert Sanchez, but the magic works again. Ethel Birrell is officious, grumpy, and side splittingly funny in a part that gathers laughs like a beachcomber collects seashells. Maybe she borrowed Dan’s metal detector.
David Pierce’s versatile set designs for the show are still intriguing. This time around, Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s costumes seem to have a softer period style.
The Junior Company preshow is devoted to things that can hurt you (inspired by Ralphie’s BB gun), with the young performers warning of the dangers of everything from “Deadman’s Curve” to “Cruella DeVille.”
GCP has dedicated this season to raising people’s Christmas spirits with A Christmas Story and the 2nd Space radio-show-version of It’s a Wonderful Life. God bless them, every one. Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater is at 1226 N Wishon Ave. For more information, call (559) 266-9494 or go to gcplayers.com and on KRL’s Good Company Players event page.
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