CHRISTMAS ARRIVED IN NOVEMBER
AND WAS RECEIVED WITH AN STANDING OVATION
PALO ALTO, CA -- On the night of November 9th the outside weather was cold, but inside the Lucie Stern Theatre, the atmosphere was warm. It was the opening night of PALO ALTO PLAYERS "A CHRISTMAS STORY, The Musical," and the audience was lively.
The sights and sounds familiar with Christmas were everywhere. The ushers and usherettes walked up and down the aisles of the theatre wearing pointed red and green felt hats like those worn by Santa's elves, in his toys' workshop in the North Pole. And to create the Christmas' atmosphere, Christmas Carols were heard in the piped music in the background. It felt so much like Christmas, that the "Christmas' glow." was already reflected in the eyes of the children.
With the stage curtain still down, adult Ralphie, (JEAN SHEPHERD) described as a "narrator" in the program, dressed in Winter clothes, with a knitted wool hat on his head and a scarf wrapped around his neck, walked towards the stage and standing in front of it, started telling the audience "A Christmas Story."
And as "the narrator" was talking, the curtain went up and the audience found themselves staring at the inside of the two story house, the Parker's family's house, situated in Cleveland Street in the imaginary town of Hammond Indiana.
We then meet the four members in the family, (Pictured above) "The Old Man," (MICHAEL RHONE) as the father is called in the story, who is a hard working man, with little money, whose dream is to win one of those "house prizes" in their local newspaper's crosswords' puzzle contest. He needs to win one, because from their furnace, to the house's pipes, to the tires in his car. everything is falling apart.
But not his marriage. That is very stable. His wife (GWYNETH PRICE PANOS) is a stay-at-home mother. She is so determine to perform her "traditional "woman's role," that the writer of the story did not even bother to give her a name. She is just called "mother." The couple has two sons: Ralphie, (JOSHUA PARECKI) on her right side in the photograph, and Randy (ANTONIO ELIAS) standing in the left corner looking up at the lamp.
The family may be described as "the average Middle Class American family from the 1940's" in which the father works, the children go to school and the mother stays home, and sings "What a Mother does" as she prepares dinner, collects toys, spread around the house, cleans the furniture and picks up clothes from the floor,
Their story begins in December and this year, Ralphie wants a rifle for this Christmas. He (PARECKI) describes it perfectly in his "Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun" song, but, sadly, after trying all year to convince his parents to buy it for him, he concluded that they never will, because his mother is convinced that if he gets one, he is going to shoot his eye out. But determined to get his rifle for Christmas, the boy is going to go to visit Santa at toy's store and tell him that this year he only wants one toy: a Red Ryder (r) Range Model Carbine Action BB gun, In the meantime, he will continue longing for his rifle, day and night.
The beloved holiday movie classic, also depicts the life in a town where everybody know each other, mothers call each other over the phone to report a kid who said a "bad" word, children play together on the streets, school's "Bullies" bother the small children at school and the most exciting thing for children to do in December is to go to HIGBEES toy's store and look at the toys. before. After doing that, they visit SANTA CLAUS (JOEY McDANIEL) who in the musical is a "manical department store Santa" who sits on the top of a flat top pyramid in the second floor of the store. The pyramid has steps on its right side for children to climb to where Santa's is sitting down, and a Slide on its left side, which conveniently, allows Santa to push the kids away from him and as they fall on the floor, push them face down on the slide that brings them back to the first floor.
A CHRISTMAS STORY the Musical is set in the year l940's and, like the movie, chronicles the story of a young Ralphie Parker and his fixation on an official RED RIYDER (R) BB gun rifle.
The musical leaves the movie story intact, but adds songs and dances. (Dance Captain & Assistant Choreographer ZENDREX LLADO) to the story. The best dance on opening night, was the tap dance danced by Miss Shields, the teacher (JULIET GREEN) and her students. It got a long ovation from the audience,
Another perfectly synchronized dance number on that night, was the one danced by a group of children in "Ralphie to the Rescue" The dance represents Ralphie's "dream" in which he sees himself as RED RYDER, defending the people of a town alone, armed with nothing but his BB gun.
And if the dancing in the musical was wonderful on that night, so was the singing. All the voices have quality and the audience was able to understand the Lyrics because they were well vocalized. As Music Director AMANDA KU did an excellent job specially in the training of the singing voices of Ralphie (PARECKI) and his brother Randy(ANTONIO ELIAS) who sang their songs in tune, projected their voices, and interpreted the lyrics of their songs.
Aside from the acting, music and dancing we need to mention that other things that enhanced the performance were the creative genius of costume designer NAOMI ARNST, the scenic designs of PATRICK KLEIN and all sound, lighting and properties designers who added to its overall magic. We also need to congratulate every one else who participate in the pearformance, because with 27 actors, many of them children, one may expected "something" to go wrong" in the production, but on its opening night, "A CHRISTMAS STORY the Musical" production was seamless. It also managed to bring the the joy of Christmas early to Palo Alto.
The Birth of A Christmas Story
The plot for "A CHISTMAS STORY the Musical" was based on the screenplay of the movie A CHRISTMAS STORY written by LEIGH BROWN, BOB CLARK and humorous writer JEAN PARKER SHEPHERD (1921-1999). The screenplay was based in SHEPHERD's collection of humorous semi-autobiographical short stories "In GOD we Trust and All others pay Cash," which were originally published in Playboy magazine between the years 1964 and 1966.
A few years later, after reading the western: "Duel in the Snow" or "Red Ryder nails the Cleveland Street Kid" SHEPHERD used Red Ryder, the Cow Boy's name, as the Brand name of the rifle that Ralphie wants.
Shortly before l983, during his WOR Radio talk show, SHEPHERD told his radio audience about his yet unpublished new short story "Flick's Tongue" (The school's kid in the story who got his tongue attached to a frozen pole). Among his listeners was Director BOB CLARK who, at the time, was looking for a story for a new film. He enjoyed SHEPHERD's story so much when he listened about it, that he decided to use it for a movie comedy, and Direct it. So, in l983, combining the stories published in "In GOD we Trust and All others pay cash"' and "Flick's Tongue'" the movie A CHRISTMAS STORY was Produced by RENE DUPONT of Metro Goldwyn- Mayer, and directed by BOB CLARK.
Based on the movie script, JOSEPH ROBINETTE, coauthor of 55 published plays and musicals and Tony Award nominee and Drama Desk Award Nominee, wrote the book for A CHRISTMAS STORY THE MUSICAL and BENJ PASEK and JUSTIN PAUL wrote the music and the lyrics for the version that we saw that night. It received a long standing ovation.
A CHRISTMAS STORY THE MUSICAL will play at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto until November 24. For tickets online go to www.paplayers.org or order them by phone at (650) 329-0891.