A Christmas Story: The Musical

The holiday season is officially upon us and nowhere else is it more apparent than in Canonsburg’s quaintly decorated Little Lake Theatre. Displaying tinsel hung with care against a festive green stage, the atmosphere feels like a trip to Grandma’s on Christmas Eve. You can feel the warmth off of a nonexistent crackling fire, and you might even spot the show’s director (Jeff Johnston) dressed in an iconic pink bunny suit. The arena theatre (theatre in the round) offers both front row seating as well as many sets of tables for enjoying platters of cheese, an assortment of beverages, and of course, holiday cookies all served by the friendly wait staff.
Having never been to Little Lake prior, I was pleasantly surprised when I was led to my seat, a table with three people already present. Though I had never met them before, the experience of sharing this show with new friends was the pinnacle of the night.

Leah Hillgrove (mom), Dylan Lawton (Ralphie), Nathan Hough (The Old Man), and Samuel Martin (Randy)

A Christmas Story, The Musical, borrows the story from the now classic movie of the same name. Although some die-hard fans of the movie may feel dismayed at the content (or lack thereof) that found its way into the musical, this show is a heartwarming and funny spectacle for all ages. Recounting the events of a nostalgic Christmas in 1940s Indiana, adult Ralphie remembers his deep desires and endless plans to get the one gift he wants: a Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Air Rifle despite countless warnings that he’ll “shoot his eye out.”

Jean Shepherd (adult Ralphie), played by Eric Mathews displayed great energy throughout the show. While his comedic interjections didn’t always land in my opinion, he was honest and sincere at his core, a vital part of this show’s success. As for Mathew’s younger self, you could see the enjoyment in the eyes of Dylan Lawton (Ralphie) every moment he was onstage whether it was sharing a tender moment with his character’s brother Randy (Samuel Martin) or as he rushed to rescue his friends and family from a gang of bandits. Lawton’s pleasant upper register vocals were welcome throughout the show, though perfecting his body language and physical acting over his teenage years will make him a powerful force in theatre.

Dylan Lawton as Ralphie

Leading a show is no easy task, not to mention doing it as a kid! Fortunately, Lawton had a marvelous crew of peers to help him along the way. Flick (Anthony Luisi) and Schwartz (Johnny Urso), (Ralphie’s two best friends) were marvelous, performing at a level well beyond their age and the remaining ensemble of children simply shined. The passion that exuded from these kids was invigorating. The group vocals were always well executed.

Rounding out the show, Nathan Hough’s portrayal of the Old Man was scintillating. Showcasing a new but truthful take on the character, he hit every mark with grace (and a healthy handful of grit). Unfortunately, I found that Hough’s performance slightly overshadowed that of Leah Hillgrove’s Mother. While Hillgrove excelled at displaying a caring mother, however, there was no impactful moment that pulled her out of the background.

Leah Hillgrove as Mom and Samuel Martin as Randy

The most significant issue I have with the show rests primarily on the writing rather than Little Lake’s execution. For an already lengthy show, crucial moments of the second act plot are crammed together at the end while the first act drags on. Once again, this is of little fault to Little Lake, however, they have room for improvement as well. The most glaring issue was the poor execution of otherwise well-created choreography. In retrospect, it was hardly “bad,” however in comparison to the quality of both singing and acting that were displayed, the movement within the production stuck out quite clearly.

Regardless, Little Lake’s production excelled in delivering an entertaining and effective show towards feelings of Christmas cheer. If nothing else, go for the wonderful atmosphere, eat a cookie or two with some old (or newly made) friends, and bask in the glow of the holiday spirit as you reflect upon the winter seasons of yesteryear.
Performances are now through December 16th on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 pm with matinees on Sundays at 2 pm. *Recommended age: 5+ For tickets click here.
Photos courtesy of Carina Iannarelli

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