Saturday, November 3rd, 7:45 PM — opening night.
Patrons of all ages bustled excitedly into the expanse of Burnaby’s Michael J. Fox theatre, myself among them, press ticket in hand. The indistinct hum of eager conversation between friends and family was electric in the air — the kind of anticipation that only comes before live performance.
Us musical-goers found our rows and took our seats, the clock ticking ever closer to curtain-up. It took no time for the theatre to fill, and before I knew it, the house lights were coming down. A hush fell over the audience.
And then, the orchestra began to play the overture. And we were off.
What followed, I can only describe as two hours of delight.
From the very first number, Counting Down to Christmas, it was clear that we were in good hands. From the charming and intricate sets, to the skillful orchestration, the entire production was ready to give us a night we were going to remember for a very long time.
Owen Scott’s performance as Ralphie Parker was superbly endearing, and an absolutely worthy centrepiece to the show. “That kid is amazing,” I heard a husband whisper to his wife in the darkness of the theatre beside me as Scott began to sing.
The dream sequences galore throughout are imaginative and thrilling, and make for a truly unique musical-viewing experience (you’ll know what I mean when you see them for yourself). Moments of humour produced huge laughs throughout the show, the most powerful of which, without question, was “Frageelay!”
Scott’s show-stopping numbers Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun and Ralphie to the Rescue were both undeniable personal favourites of mine. The children sitting two rows ahead of me spent the entire intermission singing the hook to Red Ryder, a true testament to Scott’s performance.
Scott also showcased his talent and professionalism during a minor wardrobe malfunction, fully staying in character until it could be rectified off-stage, and coming back on stronger than ever. Hats off to the young man.
He was by no means the only stand-out, however. Stefanie Stanley and Brennan Cuff as Ralphie’s mother and father had to stand in for all of our mothers and fathers, and boy did they deliver. As soon as they start singing, you realize how talented the entire cast is.
Georgiy Rhatushnyak’s performance as Ralphie’s little brother, Randy, was similarly excellent, and reminded all those of us who have been younger brothers and sisters just how much we look up to our older siblings.
I would also be remiss to not mention the incredible and captivating performance of Amanda Russell as Miss Shields, Ralphie’s teacher. The performance comes as a surprise — elabourate tap numbers are certainly not expected from educational professionals. I must say, however, they are more than welcome. A true tour de force, Russell absolutely stole the show when she was on stage. Her passionate disdain for those who don’t stay within the margins was hilarious, and certainly a warning that I will heed going forward. (I promise, Miss Shields…)
Despite these exceptional performances, the show’s true strength comes in its small, intimate moments. Full of Christmas cheer, these brief moments of pause in between the fantastical musical numbers are soft, kind, and reminiscent of Christmases past. The show is about family, and at the end of the day, so is Christmas. Every ounce of magic that could have been injected into the evening was, and I was unendingly impressed.
I easily recommend the show to people of all ages who are in the mood for a little November Christmas spirit — adults, teenagers, children — even the Scrooge in your family who isn’t so sure they like musicals. This one is fun, (almost) entirely innocent, full of joy, and extremely well-sung. For fans of Christmas, there’s nothing not to like.
My interview last week with actress Stefanie Stanley can be read here.
Align Entertainment’s production of A Christmas Story: The Musical, directed by Chad Matchette.
When: November 2nd through the 17th
Where: Michael J. Fox Theatre, 7373 MacPherson Ave., Burnaby