Christmas Story Morgan

Pleasant ‘Christmas Story’ kicks off holidays at Venice Theatre

By Jay Handelman, Herald-Tribune, Nov. 15, 2017

Musical based on holiday classic runs through Dec. 10

A poster of humorist Jean Shepherd hung in my brother’s bedroom when we were growing up, and I remember nights listening to the inventive and colorful stories the radio star told on his nightly broadcasts on WOR in New York.

It’s safe to say that most people still know that distinctive voice from the holiday classic “A Christmas Story,” based on one of Shepherd’s stories. He narrated the film with an excitable tone that conveyed all the worry and nervousness of 9-year-old Ralphie Parker and his campaign to get a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun for Christmas. And he simultaneously made us feel like we knew Ralphie’s grumpy, often-cursing father who, despite all the grousing, still displays a beating heart.

… it offers an often delightful performance by Asher Woomert in the key role of Ralphie. His older brother, Judah, played the same part three years ago at the Players Centre in Sarasota. Asher may not be as natural an actor or singer as his brother, but he does help you connect with Ralphie’s anxieties over this all-important Christmas gift. To this young boy, nothing is more important. But typical of a nervous and shy kid, he overthinks every move he wants to make to convince his parents to get him the gun, whether it’s a direct conversation, sitting on Santa’s lap at Higbee’s department store or writing a school essay.

He’s joined by Charles Davis Shoemaker, who is adorable as Ralphie’s younger brother, Randy, who tangles with a heavy winter coat, and Kim Kollar as their loving, overprotective mother. She sings the touching “Just Like That” about how quickly problems and childhood can pass by.

As The Old Man, Neil Kasanofsky conveys all the father’s irascibility and penchant for explosive outbursts over the constant flow of bills and the angry dogs next door. He looks older than you might expect and his singing is only passable for some of the sweet melodies by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Tony winners for “Dear Evan Hansen”). But you do feel his unmitigated joy when he wins a leg-shaped lamp as a prize for one of the many contests he enters. The prize doesn’t matter as much as the fact that he finally won something.

There’s also a joyous performance by Morgan Graves as Ralphie’s teacher, Miss Shields, who briefly sheds her prim and proper attitude for a vivacious song and dance routine to “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.” It’s one of several lively fantasy musical sequences that make up the show, and features some impressive tapping (choreographed by Geena M. Ravella) by ensemble member Noah Roderiques.

Douglas Landin plays Shepherd himself, who narrates the show and becomes a presence on stage, leading us from one memorable moment to another and helping to move the set.

While the production doesn’t always capture the emotional highs and lows, it does create some warm, nostalgic feelings and the joy of watching kids put all their efforts into making their wishes come true.

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