A Christmas Story - the Musical
- By gentleguide
- On Wed 27 nov 2019
It’s holiday time, and we all have fond (and occasionally not so fond) memories of family gatherings. Sometimes it is about gifts we give or gifts we want, other times dealing with those we’d rather avoid. But no matter what, Christmas brings out events both thrilling and memorable, the type of thing that is celebrated in A Christmas Story - the Musical, opening next week and running for the month of December at the DM Playhouse.
Based on the stories of author Jean Shepherd (which were turned into the beloved holiday movie A Christmas Story), this stage version now also adds a delightful Tony-nominated score and songs by the acclaimed team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Presented as a series of short memory vignettes, all the well-known moments from the movie are here, just as so many of us remember them.
It All Comes Down to Christmas
A Christmas Story - the Musical centers around young Ralphie, brought to life by actor Ryan Henzi, who is becoming a Playhouse veteran although he’s not even in his teens. We see all Ralphie’s friends and family and their own hopes for the Christmas season through the memories of author and narrator Shepherd (played by Adam Beilgard). Ralphie’s brother Randy is portrayed by Adam’s real-life son Shea Beilgard, making this show truly a family affair. And family is what A Christmas Story - the Musical is really about.
Performing in a show together, especially one as cheerful and fun as A Christmas Story - the Musical, is a special treat for Adam and Shea. “I love that we can share this passion together and that we can sing songs from the show at home over, and over, and over, and over…”
“Doing a show with a family member is a lot more satisfying for me,” says Shea. “Also, my stomach doesn’t flip as much when my dad is at rehearsals and shows with me.”
Young Henzi comes from a theatre family as well, as his younger sister has recently started performing with both CAP Theatre in Altoona and Story Theater Company in Ames. “It’s pretty great to have a sister to understand the stress of Tech Week,” Ryan says with a hint of humor. “I'm kidding, my whole family is really supportive and understands the struggles of theatre. *cough* My Mom *cough* (I probably shouldn't say this), but my Mom lets me sleep in on the morning of opening night so I'm on my A-game.”
Henzi’s mother Stephanie may not be in the show herself, but she has her own perspective on being the parent of multiple performers. “Having kids in theater is so amazing, and so exhausting. I am truly lucky as I absolutely love going to the theater and seeing my kids on-stage is just icing on the cake! It is not easy with schedules (and work, and school, and having two other kids besides my theater ones), but seeing my kids have so much fun at every rehearsal and performance and gain a confidence that they probably wouldn't have without theater makes it all worth it.”
Ralphie to the Rescue!
This version of A Christmas Story is a musical, as opposed to the original movie upon which it is based. I wondered how well the stories translated with song and dance added into the show. As narrator, Adam Beilgard is ready to sing... but feels fortunate that his part doesn’t require the level of dance and movement others have in the show.
“I think the fact that it’s a musical changes the pacing, and to keep true to the original story arc, the timing pushes or pulls in places, and some things get combined, or omitted. In the end, you still have A Christmas Story, but now – with singing! …and dancing. I’m not so good at dancing, which became evident when I had to sit out halfway through dance auditions. My shoe came off during a heel kick and I rolled my ankle, something fierce. 14 years of rugby and that’s probably the worst ankle/foot injury to date.”
As stated earlier, Henzi is a veteran of multiple musicals at the Playhouse and other places, with featured numbers in Billy Elliot, Newsies, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. “In most cases, music adds a more insightful first person view of the characters, but since the movie and the show have the Narrator (Jean), it doesn't change the storytelling too wildly. The only thing it adds is a more robust and grand way of showing things. This grand way definitely helps with climaxes of scenes. The dancing adds a whole new layer to it. Personally, I get to dance in the kids' songs, the big number Ralphie to the Rescue, and do a bit of tap in You'll Shoot Your Eye Out.”
Shea embraces it all wholeheartedly. For him, the stage presentation of A Christmas Story as a musical seems like the best of all possible worlds. “To me, the music explains more of what the characters are thinking or feeling. I like the musical version better, now that we’ve been rehearsing it for a while; it does more for me because I was born into a musical family and I love singing. For my character Randy, I have to sing a lot, which is kind of new, there’s a lot of dancing which is really new, and then acting, which I’ve done before in other shows.”
Just Like That
Whether you’ve seen the original movie or not, you’ll still have fun with A Christmas Story - the Musical. The movie is older than many of the kids in the cast, yet the adults all grew up with it. It’s just good, quality entertainment for the entire family.
“Personally, I don't have any concerns for the nostalgia factor,” says Henzi. “The show has many similarities, but many differences that set itself apart from the movie, creating a whole new experience. There were a few small surprises, but the show mostly expands on the movie, not changing it completely.”
Shea Beilgard has similar sentiments. “A lot of parts are just like the movie, there are a few differences, but not many. There’s no singing in the movie, and there a probably a couple of lines that are different, but not much of the action changes. We have to fit it on a stage, but that’s it. Even if you’ve seen the movie, there are new parts that are really funny that we bring out in the songs, but if you like the movie, still come see it, it’s got all the best parts from that as well!”
A Christmas Story - the Musical is this year’s featured family presentation on the mainstage at the DM Playhouse. It opens Friday December 6, and shows run on Thursday and Friday evenings, with twice daily matinees on Saturdays and Sundays until Christmas. There are also two shows on Monday, December 23, just before the holiday. Tickets are available through the DM Playhouse website, in person at their box office, or by calling 277-6261.
Publicity Photos by Steve Gibbons, courtesy of the Des Moines Playhouse.