For me, the 1983 comedy A Christmas Movie is second only to It’s A Wonderful Life for the must-see holiday family film.
This Canadian movie is based on American humorist Jean Shepherd’s witty memories of the boyhood Christmas when all he wanted was a Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass and watch imbedded in its handle.
I’ve lost count of the number of times our family watched it together on Christmas Eve to pass the time while we waited to go to Midnight Mass and of those times I’ve watched it alone.
I’ve seen several stage adaptations of this film including the musical version and they all seemed to fall short of my expectations or of my memories until I caught Paul Muir’s production of Philip Grecian’s version running at the Rosebud Dinner Theatre until Dec. 22.
Grecian and Muir have captured the unabashed whimsy of Shepherd’s tale of Ralphie Parker, his dream rifle, a hideous lamp, some neighbourhood hell hounds and his wonderfully dysfunctional family.
Grecian’s play puts great demands on a company’s director, set designer and cast and everyone in this production more than meets those challenges seemingly with as much ease as aplomb.
Brian Ball’s set has to feature a furnace that belches smoke amidst a red glow, a school class room and a playground with that infamous flagpole. There also has to be a Santaland at the local department store and three rooms at the Parker house. Ball is working with a small stage, but he has created a set that features all of these necessities and much more.
As the director of Rosebud’s A Christmas Story, Muir walks a tightrope because we have to believe Ralphie, his mother, father and little brother Randy are the kind of real people who could be our neighbours, yet they all have to be just a tad cartoonish to make the silliness work as well as it does in this production.
The story is related by Ralph Parker (Aaron Krogman) the grown version of Ralphie who not only tells the story and comments on the action unfolding but occasionally inserts himself into that action. Krogman has that Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Tom Hanks gentle swagger that allows him to wink as much at the audience as he does at the characters in the play.
Equally tour-de-force is Nathan Schmidt’s performance as Ralphie’s beleaguered and bedraggled father who swears like a sailor whenever the furnace acts up or his second-hand Oldsmobile threatens to give up the ghost, fawns over the grotesque lamp he wins in a contest and dashes to escape the dogs that see him as their favourite toy. Schmidt defines lovable loser.
Glenda Warkentin is the glue that keeps the family together as well as those busts of chaotic action on stage.
Rebbekah Ogden and Silas Winters are convincing as the Parker children as are Kalena Lewandowski, Keisha Wright, Holly Longmead and Anja Darien as Raphie’s classmates. Heidi Susanne MacDonald and Geordie Cowan are outstanding in cameos as Ralphie’s teacher and his nemesis Scut Farkus, the class bully.
This is a play where Santa Claus, Red Ryder himself, frontier desperadoes, jungle explorers and unruly canines must make an appearance and where young love blossoms and dreams sometimes do come true which more than justifies the 80-minute drive out to Rosebud.
Originally posted on calgaryherald.com.