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You’ll Clap Your Hands Off at Covedale’s “A Christmas Story”

Review by Jack Crumley of A Christmas Story: Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

The weather is getting colder, and Dorothy has returned from her trip over the rainbow, which means the Covedale is now telling a different kind of story. A Christmas Story. Philip Grecian has adapted the classic, 1983 film that broadcasts non-stop on the big day itself, and Director Tim Perrino has made the show work for his stage on Glenway Avenue. This is the adaptation from 2000, not the Broadway A Christmas Story: The Musical from 2012. This production at the Covedale now through December 23 may have a few new scenes and characters, but there are no song and dance numbers.

A Christmas Story tells the tale of Ralphie Parker remembering a particularly eventful Christmas from his childhood in 1940’s-ish rural Indiana. All of the inimitable moments from the film are in this production: fantasizing about the Red Ryder bb gun, the Little Orphan Annie decoder pin, sticking a tongue on a lamppost, meeting Santa, saying “the queen mother of dirty words,” even the Bumpus’s dogs (with a little imagination). This show is a memory wrapped in history and tucked inside nostalgia.

The biggest difference this production has with its source material is the change in the narration. In the movie, an all-grown-up Ralph is describing and commenting on the story as it happens purely as a voiceover. In this stage production, an adult Ralph Parker is a character on-stage. The younger version of Ralphie at times acts out and directly reacts to the adult Ralph’s words in a somewhat demonstrable way. Narrator Ralph also interacts with the characters to a certain degree. It’s a change in the dynamic of the detached, reactionary voiceover from the movie, and it makes sense for a theatrical production. If nothing else, having the face of adult Ralph reacting to the funny moments in the story makes those parts that much funnier.

The cast of this production has to walk an interesting line where-in they are playing characters that we’ve all seen just one way in the movie. That’s the material they’re working with, but in terms of the way they recite their lines and the blocking on stage, this show isn’t just trying to copy everything from the movie. Tommy Boeing as the adult Ralph narrator has many more lines than the 1983 voiceover, and oftentimes as he’s describing something, the actors playing the Parker family have to keep themselves busy in a scene until the next element hits. Nicole Capobianco as The Mother, Chris Bishop as The Old Man, Eric Schaumloffel as Ralphie, and Henry Charles Weghorst as Ralphie’s younger brother Randy, all do a great job of staying in character even when the focus is on Ralph. Capobianco’s Mother is a little more warm than the way Melinda Dylan played her in the movie. Bishop as The Old Man is a lot more cartoonishly fun than Darren McGavin’s portrayal. Schaumloffel’s Ralphie has to alternate between being in a scene and breaking the fourth wall to play to the audience and he shifts back and forth with ease. Weghorst’s childish whining about having to go to the bathroom is pitch-perfect.

All of the children in this show are fully committed to their parts. In addition to Schaumloffel and Weghorst, Peter Waning as Flick and Noah Jeffreys as Schwartz (Ralphie’s childhood friends) don’t hold back when it comes time to scream and run from the town bully, Scut Farkas (played with an energetic menace by Mitchell Wolking). Added to the cast of this stage adaptation are some girls in the class: Esther Jane, a potential romantic interest played sweetly by Ruthie Darnell and an inspiring, ahead-of-her-time Helen, played authoritatively and honestly by Clare Graff. There’s no hint of embarrassment about what these kids are doing on stage. They’re playing these characters and having fun doing it. That kind of enthusiasm makes the show that much easier to enjoy.

As always, the set for this production was impressive. Generally speaking, the audience is seeing the interior of the Parker house: the kitchen, the living room, the front door, and stairs leading up to Ralphie’s room. There’s a lot of detail in Brett Bowling’s set. Outside of scenes in the home, set pieces are wheeled on and off stage: the infamous lamppost, a blackboard and desk for Miss Shields’ classroom (played by Madison Pullins, who goes for the gusto in the fantasy sequence where she’s grading Ralphie’s theme paper), the family car, and–most impressively–the Santa set. Just like the movie, children climb stairs to talk to Santa Claus, then they fly down a slide after telling the big guy what they want.

This production also has fun with the lighting in the fantasy sequences of Ralph’s memory. Whether it’s Ralphie himself taking down Black Bart’s gang or the moment when the lugnuts going flying in slow-motion to Ralphie’s reaction of “fuuuuuudge,” Lighting & Sound Designer/Technical Director Denny Reed’s cues perfectly add to the story.

A big part of Christmastime is about traditions and family and familiarity. So if you’re looking to take the family to see something that’s both new and familiar, you can’t do much better than this year’s production of A Christmas Story.

A Christmas Storyruns at the Covedale Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through December 23. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa