It's pretty easy to be grumpy about a musical adaptation of a beloved film, especially one as iconic as A Christmas Story. It's a bit like It's a Wonderful Life: The Musical.
Still, the Ordway production features plenty of fresh-faced enthusiasm and a sense of overwhelming cheer that overtakes the dull, standard-issue score.
If you've watched TBS or USA on Christmas, you've probably caught part of the film and know the story. Set in Indiana sometime during the 1930s-40s (the year has been intentionally made vague), A Christmas Story follows Ralphie, a typical youth obsessed with Christmas. His biggest obsession is the Red Ryder Carbine-Action BB Gun, which he schemes to get throughout the season.
It's the texture of the film -- which evokes a time long past, but also familiar to anyone who remembers their childhood -- that has always stood out. A lot of that is going to get lost when you bring the story to the stage.
The production still does a good job of evoking the time period. It's aided by Gary Briggle, who steps into Jean Shepherd's unseen shoes as the narrator. Briggle's warm performance sets the tone for the whole show, but it is the youthful cast that really makes their mark.
Jake Goodman is absolutely charming as Ralphie, whether it is dealing with scary bully Scut Farkus or dreaming about the glory of owning a BB gun.
In between, there are other strong performances, especially from Dieter Bierbrauer as The Old Man, as he brings plenty of cheerful enthusiasm to the role. Billie Wildrick has lots of fun with the wiser Mother, and the pair showcase a steady chemistry that feels authentic.
The songs from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are less successful, as they sound like a bunch of tunes rejected by the creators of Annie for being too stale and on point.
Thankfully, director James Rocco props the songs up with delightful staging. With the aid of choreographer Sharon Halley, these moments become over-the-top showstoppers, whether in Ralphie's fantasies or his father's.
IF YOU GO:
A Christmas Story: The Musical Through December 28 Ordway Center for the Arts 345 Washington St., St. Paul $33-$110 For tickets and more information, call 651.224.4222 or visit online.