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Virginia Rep Delivers a Broadway Blockbuster with “A Christmas Story: The Musical”

Mix together a cast of 30-plus talented actors, two adorable hounds, and a dozen or more super-charged Christmassy costumes and you have pure holiday magic. That’s what you’ll find at Virginia Rep’s production of A Christmas Story: The Musical.

Andrea Rivette, Duke Lafoon, and Brandon McKenney bring the fabulous family to life during ”A Christmas Story: The Musical.” (Photo by Aaron Sutten)
Andrea Rivette, Duke Lafoon, and Brandon McKinney bring the fabulous family to life during ”A Christmas Story: The Musical.” (Photo by Aaron Sutten)

This delightful comedy is based on the wildly popular film, A Christmas Story, written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark. Each year, families can’t get enough of the holiday favorite on television.

The simple-but-humorous story tells the nostalgic tale of Ralphie, an imaginative 9-year-old whose only wish for Christmas is to get a Red Ryder carbine action BB gun from Santa. Ralphie contemplates several plans that will net him the BB gun, but none prove to be successful. At the same time, he is plotting for the gun, he has to deal with two bullies who are continuously harassing him and his friends.

While all of this is going on, the action swings over to his very patient, somewhat frazzled mother and a father who is constantly running from the dogs next door. After years of trying, he wins a crossword puzzle contest, but is surprised when the “major award” he won is a (some might say tacky) lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg. Needless to say, Ralphie’s mom isn’t impressed with the oddity now occupying her front window.

Ralphie’s school days are good for laughs and sighs as Christmas draws near. (Photo by Aaron Sutten)
Ralphie’s school days are good for laughs and sighs as Christmas draws near. (Photo by Aaron Sutten)

Ultimately, Ralphie finds the courage to ask for his treasured gift and discovers that Christmas is more than a new BB gun.

Director Chase Kniffen has done a fantastic job of making this holiday play feel warm and inviting – just what families need in a show this time of year. The action on stage flows at a constant and comfortable pace. Even though more than thirty actors are moving in all directions, it never feels overwhelming or chaotic. The talented and well-rehearsed actors, many of whom are kids, are energetic and entertaining. They move with passion and precision.

Garet Chester, who spent many years behind a mic doing radio in Richmond, is perfectly cast as writer and storyteller Jean Shepherd who penned the stories that came together to form the original screenplay for A Christmas Story, the holiday classic we all know and love. Chester’s narration brings context and humor to the story.

Cole Johnson is a real cutie as Randy, Ralphie’s younger brother. His smile is captivating. (Are you picturing him in that snowsuit right now?)

Andrea Rivette as Mother and Susan Sanford as Miss Shields bring a ton of heart and energy to the stage. Both offer amazing vocals. As a bonus, Sanford gets to add an extra dose of naughtiness in her role as Ralphie’s teacher.

The fun that Duke Lafoon has on stage as Ralphie’s Old Man is contagious. His delightful portrayal is as smooth and flawless as the first snowfall of the season. He captures the essence of a dad who has to cope with the daily nuances of life, but who still remembers what it was like to be a kid at Christmas.

Brandon McKinney is a super star in his role as Ralphie. This Richmond actor, who shone as young Patrick in Mame two years ago, is destined to appear on Broadway some day. As they say in theater, he is a true triple threat and mesmerizing on stage.

Successfully transferring a beloved movie to the stage as a musical takes a lot more than talented performers. You couldn’t have this type of Broadway-caliber production without the amazing set design of Brian Barker, the lighting of Joe Doran, and the fantastic costumes of Jeanne Nugent – think dancers dressed up as a lamp shade complete with electric lights. And kudos to hounds Moose and Reba and their animal handler AJ Sullivan.

Although A Christmas Story: The Musical is about a kid, it is not geared to kids. There is a fair amount of fake swearing and adult humor throughout the production. That said, I recommend it for about eight and up. The production runs close to two-and-a-half hours with intermission.

This year, A Christmas Story: The Musical is a great Christmas present for you and your family. It runs through January 1. Whether you see it before or after Christmas, you won’t be disappointed. Visit Virginia Rep for showtimes and tickets.

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