By Heidi Sutton
Many families have holiday traditions, whether it’s baking cookies, making their favorite side dishes, decorating the tree on a certain day, going to see the same show every year or wearing ugly sweaters. Among those traditions is the 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story (1983) on TBS that began in 1997 and now also runs on TNT on Dec. 24 and 25. And if you know the name of the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse, then you are a true fan.
Based on semi-autobiographical stories by Jean Shepherd, who also narrates throughout, the funny holiday film follows the Parker family — 9-year-old Ralphie, his younger brother Randy, his father (the Old Man) and his mother — living in a house on Cleveland Street in fictional Hohman, Indiana and their days leading up to the Christmas of 1940.
When asked by his mother what he would like for Christmas Ralphie doesn’t say Tinker toys, a football and or a Radio Flyer. He wants a bb gun — a Red Ryder carbine-action 200 Shot Range Model air rifle with a stock and a thing that tells time, to be exact. When his mother tells him no, that he’ll “shoot his eye out,” he goes on a quest to try to convince her otherwise. The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” in 2012.
Now the classic holiday story returns to the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport through Dec. 31 and is the perfect holiday gift for the entire family.
Directed and choreographed by Mara Newberry Greer with a live orchestra conducted by Daniel Mollett, the show follows the film closely with many of the scenes we have come to love. In the role of Jean Shepherd, narrator Michael Fasciano, stepping in for Mark Aldrich last Saturday night, sits on the right side of the theater and presents the story in a series of vignettes as he remembers “Another time, another place … and a gun.”
As with everything the Engeman does, the show is bold and fresh and pushes the limits of live theater to take the audience down a joyous trip down memory lane. The Old Man’s major award, the Bumpus hounds, Ralphie’s scuffle with Scut Farkus (what a name!) while fellow toadie Grover Dill looks helplessly on; the frosty flagpole scene with Flick and Schwartz, Randy’s snowsuit, the furnace, the trip to Higbee’s Department Store with Santa and the infamous slide, the flat tire, the pink bunny costume, when Ralphie almost shoots his eye out, Christmas morning around the tree and Christmas dinner at the Chinese restaurant — all the scenes we have come to love are there in all their glory.
The entire cast is phenomenal.
As the Old Man, Ryan M. Hunt brings the house down with “A Major Award” where he dances with multiple leg lamps. Rachel Gubow, stepping in for Jennifer Evans last Saturday night, was wonderful in the role of the mother, keeping calm in the household. Her rendition of “What a Mother Does” was heartfelt. Jackson Parker Gill is perfectly cast as Randy and even sounds like him, especially during the snowsuit scene.
Drawing the most laughs is Lanene Charters as Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields. Obsessed with margins, Charters is hilarious in the big Speak Easy number “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” as she mercilessly mocks Ralphie in this terrific tap dance number.
However it is the amazingly talented Kaian Lilien in the role of Ralphie who commands the stage. His incredible performance in the opening number, “It All Comes Down to Christmas” is only topped by his rendition of “Ralphie to the Rescue!,” in one of the best scenes in the show.
The period costumes by Dustin Cross perfectly set the scene and the set, designed by Kyle Dixon, is impressive as well. Two rooms featuring an authentic 1940s kitchen and living room (the heart of the home) slide front and back on the stage to accommodate other scenes including Ralphie’s classroom and the alleyway, among others. The boys’ bunk bed slides out from the side. Beautifully executed!
Make this show part of your family’s holiday tradition. I triple dog dare you.
The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents A Christmas Story through Dec. 31. Main stage theater continues with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels from Jan. 19 to March 5, 2023 and The Scarlet Pimpernel from March 16 to April 30, 2023. Tickets range from $80 to $85 with free valet parking. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.