Waterloo East Theatre, London – until 22 December 2018
A stage adaptation of the 1983 film, A Christmas Story: The Musical follows young Ralphie who’s sole Christmas wish is to receive a Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. Besides that, there’s pretty much no story other than a boatload of coming of age tropes, including bullying, classroom issues and family arguments. It’s a simple show, which doesn’t contain anything groundbreaking but is well performed by the cast.
The main story is focused on Ralphie and his family unit who are struggling during the Depression but are still hopeful for a merry Christmas. Ralphie’s mother sings stereotypically about a mother’s work and his younger brother refuses to eat whilst his father wins a leg lampshade in a crossword competition – random indeed.
Whilst very different in tone to their other works, and particularly less memorable, the music of this show is by highly successful writing duo, Pasek and Paul (The Greatest Showman, Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land) who have provided some charming but repetitive pieces, which despite being somewhat uninspired, do evoke a warm, festive feeling.
The cast is really what makes this show. The children (at this performance: Harry Irving, Edward Flynn Haddon, Evan Huntley-Robertson, Flynn Timberlake, Chloe Weir and Sofia-Elena Tait) are full of energy and cheer as they rattle around the stage with young glee and excitement for impending Christmas celebrations. Tait is a particular standout throughout.
Leading the show as Ralphie, Rufus Kampa is very strong as he barely steps off stage and provides some lovely vocal moments. As Farkus the bully of the school, Bradley Riches is wonderful, and even more so as he shows off his humorous side as an elf who is certainly not loving his life. It’s just a shame Bradley doesn’t have a little more stage time as he really shines among the cast.
The adult cast who make up the rest of the show are great. Lucyelle Cliffe brings a real warmth to her role whilst her partner, Simon Willmont brings humour as well as sincerity in his solo moments where he just longs to be someone special. Garry Freer narrates the show well, whilst, Jenny Gayner astounds as the hilarious Miss Shields, and performs potentially the best number of the show with her act 2 tap dance (choreographed by Rhainne Butts). Katy Stephens is also strong in her various roles and again, it would be nice to see more of her.
Despite it being a different time and place, there’s something jarring about a number of songs focussing on a gun; some transitions are a little clunky and the story is basically non-existent, but thanks to the strength of the performers, I think we can let those things slide and appreciate A Christmas Story: The Musical, for the injection of festivity that it is.
A Christmas Story: The Musical runs at Waterloo East until 22nd December
photo credit: Robert Piwko