Just in time for the holidays, John W. Engeman Theater at Northport brings us “A Christmas Story — The Musical,” through Jan. 4, a logical choice given that the village already boasts its own Christmas Story leg lamp in the window of the Northport Hardware Company on Main Street.
The show, directed by Richard T. Dolce, is based on the 1983 holiday favorite of the same name and is a down-memory-lane tribute to the reminiscences of Jean Shepherd concerning his Indiana boyhood — the winter of 1940 in particular. Based on the book by Joseph Robinette, with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the story follows a 9-year-old boy, Ralphie, who tries to convince his parents, and Santa, to get him an official Red Ryder® carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle for Christmas.
Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
David Schmittou plays the role of Shepherd. Tall and bespectacled, he is the narrator who gives adult perspective to Ralphie. Schmittou’s lines are rife with elevated, embossed, almost Falstaffian wording, but are also incisive and intelligible. Ralphie is faultlessly played by 13-year-old Ethan Eisenberg, a rising star making his Engeman debut. Eisenberg has massive talent not only in delivery and singing voice, but also in that sine qua non of comedy — timing. He is one to watch in the future.
Ralphie’s parents, Mother and the Old Man, are played by Gina Milo and Steve Luker. Their complementarity relationship was magnificently shown in their duets as well as in their solos. Milo’s solo, “What a Mother Does,” was a paean to motherhood from an era long broken and forgotten. She has a smooth and motherly voice – more than adequate for the part. Luker was paternalistic and blustering, coming out with blistering obscenities disguised as barely intelligible English words. His singing is strong, as apparent in “A Major Award,” and when necessary, growling — very effective!
Kathryn Markey is Miss Shields, Ralphie’s teacher. Here is an example of variety, range and comic ability. In a fantasy sequence, she appears in a burgundy, side-slit dress and sings and dances to “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out,” regarding Ralphie’s Christmas wish for a BB gun. In a previous scene, in the classroom, she is the starched disciplinarian, but takes part in “Ralphie to the Rescue!” a fantasy sequence that has Ralphie getting his BB gun.
The talent doesn’t stop there. The children’s ensemble, who alternate in the red and green cast, are terrific, especially during the musical numbers “When You’re a Wimp” and “Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana” – referring to Santa and his sled and reindeer — beautifully executed.
Choreography was handled neatly by Antoinette DiPietropolo, who is nothing short of a genius. Her creation of complex convolutions by an ensemble of about 10, including children, is nothing short of incredible. Her talents have been previously evident in “Evita,” “The Music Man” and “South Pacific.” She is a force to be reckoned with at the Engeman. Every possible dance style was used by both solo performers and the ensemble, with the latter, highly disciplined, précised crew coached to perfection by Ms. D. Her work was the armature of the show — the diamond axis around which the whole show revolved.
Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Music was live and featured Jonathan Lynch on piano; Joe Boardman on trumpet; Brent Chiarello on trombone; Russ Brown on bass; Josh Endlich on percussion and Michael Kendrot on reeds. This outfit was powerful and pertinent, especially Chiarello’s full-throated trombone. Lynch had his men pointedly rehearsed. Scenic design was a mobile masterpiece by Jonathan Collins. Scene changes, prop placement and the rolling kitchen set were engineered with noteworthy skill.
Diehard fans of the movie — the 15th annual 24-hour marathon will return to television this Christmas Eve on TBS — will not be disappointed. All the memorable scenes with the leg lamp, the bad-tempered Santa (You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!), the bully, the pink bunny suit and even the tongue getting stuck to the lamppost – they are all there. Northport’s Engeman has generated another hit show and the perfect holiday treat for the whole family.
The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present ‘A Christmas Story – The Musical” through Jan. 4. Tickets are $69. For more information, call 261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.