Written by JulieAnne Cross
If one ever wonders how much Americans REALLY love the 1984 movie, A Christmas Story, one need only look to the TBS television network, which began broadcasting a 24-hour Christmas Eve-into-Day marathon of the flick in 1997, a tradition that continues today. In 2013, the nine broadcasts averaged 3.8 million viewers every two hours.
So it is no surprise that Wilmington Drama League has chosen the musical version of this beloved Christmas tale that features a young post-Depression Indiana boy, Ralphie, to get busy butts into seats during the hectic month of December. For WDL, which has turned out stars such as Aubrey Plaza and John Gallagher Jr., this is the 85th Christmas show they’ve staged. It’s the company’s annual opportunity to see full families seated together for holiday entertainment.
A Christmas Story, The Musical! performances take place on Friday and Saturday, December 14, 15, 21, 28 and 29 at 8pm. Additionally, matinees occur on December 16, 22, 23, 27 and 30 at 2pm.
Ralphie’s main goal in life is to convince his parents and Santa Claus to deliver a coveted Red Ryder BB gun under the tree for Christmas. As the holiday looms, Ralphie clashes with a bully, gets his mouth washed out with soap, and ultimately breaks his glasses…while avoiding a fate his mother and others repeatedly project on him. Memorable movie moments include a tongue stuck to a frozen flag pole and a “sexy” leg lamp, elements that will make their way to WDL’s stage.
This musical opened on Broadway in 2012. It, like the film, is based upon the book, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, written by Jean Shepherd, who also wrote the screenplay along with Leigh Brown and Bob Clark. The music and lyrics were written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul with the book by Joseph Robinette, and it received Tony Award nominations for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre. (Don’t know those names? Robinette may be most well-known for the authorized stage version of Charlotte's Web, plus The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Anne of Green Gables.)
Kathy Buterbaugh, who is WDL’s Production Manager as well as Production Manager of this show, says that the Christmas shows draw a different audience than the rest of WDL’s season.
“The show can neither be too young or too old.”
Something like It’s a Wonderful Life might have appeal to older folks, but WDL seeks titles with more universal appeal.
“In this day and age of Netflix, it helps if the show was once a movie,” noting that shows like Aladdin and Lion King have an excellent draw.
WDL’s A Christmas Story, The Musical! features direction by S. Lee Lewis, musical direction by Jen D’Amico and choreography by Rachel Marlowe. Ralphie is played by Luke Plunkett (the Ralphie understudy for Walnut Street Theatre), the mother by Renee Grant and “the Old Man” by Mark Dixon.
Buterbaugh noted that WDL’s A Christmas Story, The Musical! features a cast that includes many family units: a mom, dad and child, as well as a couple of sets of siblings. The cast also counts a third of its members new to the WDL stage.
Notable family units include Colin, Cindy and Jason Zern (as Flick, Mrs. Schwartz and ensemble/understudy for Male Chief Elf, respectively). Mikala and Ami Plymyer sing together in the children’s ensemble. Nate Reid plays Grover while Syd sings in the children’s ensemble. The DeStafneys, O’Sullivans and Cooks also have multiple family members either behind the scenes or on stage.
Additional cast INcludes Dan Healy, Michael Turner, Wyatt Enslen, Isabel Asher, Shannon O’Sullivan, Jared DeStafney, Tracy Jacobs, Genevieve Aucoin, Richard Cohen, Kathy Buterbaugh and Eric Merlino. Ensemble is made up of Cynthia Weaverm Adelaide Nourie, Benjamin Nourie, Emma Domenick, Shane Olexa, Carlita Kaliher, Lucy Perdick, Abigail Flick, Kai Holden and Josh Epps.