Midtown Art Center’s ‘A Christmas Story: The Musical’ exceeds expectations

Henry Netherland

The Midtown Art Center’s production of “A Christmas Story: The Musical” is a surprisingly ambitious take on the classic Christmas movie.

A performance of “A Christmas Story: The Musical” at the Midtown Arts Center is not simply going into an auditorium, watching a two-hour performance and leaving. Rather, it is a much more extravagant experience with surprises to be had at every corner.

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As soon as you enter, you are greeted by a smiling ticket taker. As they let you in, you are introduced to your waiter, some of whom are actors in the actual performance.

On the table you can find a pamphlet that works as both a menu and a playbill. On your menu will be a variety of high-quality food and beverage choices that are accommodating to many diets and allergies. 

Photo courtesy of Midtown Arts Center

Just before the show begins, there is a brief pre-show when the theater staff welcomes the audience and announces special events for particular members of the crowd such as anniversaries or birthdays. Although short and seemingly insignificant, the segment adds a huge sense of community to the overall experience.

After allowing guests to finish their food, the show begins.

Even though the musical covers all of the major scenes from the original movie, this production is not just a simple reenactment with music strung in between scenes. The classic characters from the original movie feel more fleshed out allowing the audience to get a better understanding of who they are.

The cast shows an incredible amount of talent in almost every aspect of theater, especially acting. All across the board every performer from the leads to the ensemble played their characters and played them well. Not a single performer stood out negatively. There were, however, some definite standouts.

Unlike the movie, the story’s narrator, Jean Shepherd, physically appears in several scenes. Played by Daniel Harkins, the physical presence of Shepherd gives a face to what was originally a mysterious voice. Harkins does an excellent job of providing context while not causing distractions.

Actors John Jankow, who plays The Old Man, and Charity Haskins, who plays Miss Shields, also did marvelous jobs in their performances. Both had difficult tasks capturing the absurdity of their characters without resorting to overacting.

In terms of the younger actors, all of the performances showed great potential. There may have been some rusty moments, but none of the cast members were noticeably horrendous. Kyle Fisher, who played Randy, especially stood out. Despite having fewer lines than his costars and being only six years old, every piece of his dialogue was executed perfectly. During some parts it even felt as though the original actor was on stage.

While the acting may be amazing, the music leaves much to be desired. Instrumentally and compositionally there is nothing really wrong with the production. The music is far from groundbreaking; however, the instrumentals are jazzy and upbeat enough to hold the audience’s attention and avoid falling into the cliche pitfalls typically found in musicals. Where the problem lies is in the vocals.

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About 75 percent of the time, the singing is great. The voices are strong and there is usually a prominent vibrato coming from the more experienced performers. However, within the remaining 25 percent, the singing is sometimes unbearable. Throughout the musical, the singing is very inconsistent in terms of quality. What is more bizarre is that the issue transcends age and experience and affects a variety of the cast. Had the singing been tweaked slightly, then this production could possibly go toe-to-toe with larger, more established theaters.

Should you see it? Yes.

Despite the higher price point, with nonmember tickets going as high as $69, as well as the occasional lackluster singing, this is a high-quality production with an incredible amount of ambition backing it. With the inclusion of a quality formal dinner, the price is definitely justified. Although the intimate atmosphere is more suitable for families or dates rather than individuals or casual friends, the musical is universally enjoyable. 

The production will continue until Dec. 31, 2017. Tickets may be found here.

Collegian reporter Henry Netherland can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @Netherland_Henry.