REVIEW: A Christmas Story @ Walnut Street Theatre

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre is now presenting A Christmas Story, the Musical until January 10.

The story centers around Ralphie, the nine-year-old boy who really, really wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. Ralphie’s imagination has him rescuing fair damsels, handsome young men, and his parents from handsome evil-doers using his Red Ryder BB Gun.  Ralphie’s dream also involves handsome male dancers performing choreographic homages to Michael Kidd and Agnes De Mille (think Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Oklahoma).  Indiana in the 1940s doesn’t quell Ralphie’s imagination, as he also dreams that his school marm turns into a hot-footed floozy backed by an enslaved entourage of tall, dark, tap-dancing men at a speakeasy. Don’t all nine-year-old boys dream such dreams?  Bad Santas, bullies, and a dare to lick a pole also come into the plot. That’s a flagpole; not a man from Poland. What Dr. Freud would make of licking a flagpole or of Ralphie’s obsession with sleeping with his gun in bed we shall not discuss here. What we will discuss is this fabulous musical.

Based upon the 1980s movie, A Christmas Story, the Musical, was created in 2010 by Joseph Robinette, book, and Justin Paul and Benj Pasek who wrote the music and lyrics. After its hit Broadway run, it is making its Philadelphia debut. Following the spirit of the movie, we see Ralphie’s world: his parents; younger brother; schoolmates; teacher; the famous leg lamp; and the family’s Christmas Chinese dinner.  The musical numbers illustrate these superbly. “Higbee’s Window,” the Vincente Minelli inspired “Ralphie to the Rescue,” the 1930s speakeasy-themed “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out,” and the subversive “Up On Santa’s Lap” are all first-rate musical showstoppers.

Douglas G. Lutz is the conductor of the large live pit orchestra, adding much to the sparkle and verve seen onstage. What we do see onstage is the work of choreographer Linda Goodrich, whose experience at Radio City Music Hall can be seen in the many Rockette-inspired musical showstoppers. Scenic designer J Branson, costumes by Mary Folino, and lighting by Paul Black ensure bright Christmas memories of a story that is neither overly sentimental nor religious, but broadly enjoyable.

Where would a musical be without a great cast? They are here. Bill Van Horn was the narrator, who as famed raconteur Jean Shepherd leads us through the story of his life using the character Ralphie Parker. Van Horn is spot on in his warmth and good humor, giving us an emotional center which enables us to have an immediate personal connection to the characters. Mother was played sincerely by Lyn Philistine, and The (exceptionally athletic) Old Man (Ralphie’s father) was Christopher Sutton. Fran Prisco was everything everyone ever could dread (parent or child) in the form of a Bad Santa. Last but never least is the protagonist, Ralphie Parker, here played by Craig Mulhearn, Jr. and Liam Keenan, alternating roles. In a very demanding role, these kids do a fantastic job as do Collin Jeffery and Timmy Woodward as the younger brother, Randy.

The rest of the singing and dancing cast played numerous characters from elves to townsfolk, to characters in Ralphie’s reveries, performing costume quick changes with aplomb. The large casts of children in the musical are drawn from the Walnut Street’s own school.

For a heartwarming evening (or matinee) of theatre, you owe it to yourself, your Aunt Bea, your husband, or your own Mother and Old Man to see A Christmas Story, the Musical to welcome in the holidays.

The Walnut Street Theatre is at 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. For more information, visit their website at

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