It’s a Wonderful Life (The Radio Play) When I Get to Watch This and A Christmas Story (The Musical) All in One Week.5 min read

It’s a Wonderful Life (The Radio Play) When I Get to Watch This, the Grinch, and A Christmas Story (The Musical) All in One Week.

By Ross
Every Christmas, I like to watch three things on television to get me in the mood for the holidays. Each one brings me one step closer to the spirit of the holidays and each one has been a part of my holidays for as far back as I can remember. There’s my favorite, “A Christmas Story” (1983), the one where all that Ralphie wants is an official Red Rider carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time – “poetry, sheer poetry”. Then there’s ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas, not that horrific live action one with Jim Carrey, but the animated one voiced by Boris Karloff, and finally, the 1946 black and white Frank Capra film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring the wonderfulJimmy Stewart and Donna Reed as good guy, George Bailey and wife, Mary Hatch. I can survive the holidays if I don’t get a chance to see Scrooge, Rudolph, or marvel at The Miracle On 34th Street, but without Ralphie, the Grinch, or Zuzu’s petals, well, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas.
So far this holiday season I’ve seen two out of the three requirements, but both in ways that I didn’t expect and both wonderfully different. Last weekend I was lucky enough to be at my friend’s home in Princeton who had cable TV (I’m a streamer of television at home). We watched A Christmas Story – The Musical, LIVE on Fox TV, a musical from the boys who brought Dear Evan Hansen to Broadway. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote the music and lyrics,  and Joseph Robinette wrote the book for this film-to-Broadway adaptation years ago (it opened on Broadway in November 2012 at the Lunt Fontanne Theatre and ran for a limited engagement through December). I missed it then, and ever since I’ve always wanted to see it. I even dragged my parents to a production of A Christmas Story at London, Ontario’s Grand Theatre, only to discover during Act One that this was not in fact the musical version, just a stage version of story. Disappointing is all I’ll say on that matter.
Maya Rudolph, Andy Walken, Tyler Wladis, Chris Diamontopoulos.
But this time around, it was most definitely going to be the musical version, and the cast sounded compelling and appealing. For the live broadcast, it starred Matthew Broderick (The Producers) as the narrator/older Ralphie, the wonderful Chris Diamontopoulos (The Full Monty, Waitress) as the father, the glorious Maya Rudolph (“Bridesmaids”, “The Way Way Back”) as the mother, the incredible Ana Gasteyer (Broadway’s The Royal Family, Encores’ A New Brain) as Mrs. Schwartz (her number was astounding), and introducing the phenomenal Andy Walken as the glass wearing B.B. gun-focused Ralphie Parker. Sounds good, but it was really Jane Krakowski (She Loves Me) as Miss Shields that tipped this production happily over the edge. So I made a deal with my Princeton hosts, I had to watch ‘A Christmas Story the Musical‘regardless of all else. Not a hard bargain to make, knowing that my good friend is as much of a Broadway junkie as I am (she wrote the recent review of Wicked), and her husband, while being a newbie to the theatre world, is definitely on the way to joining our club (he did ugly cry during Dear Evan Hansen so that pretty much assured membership).
I’m not going to say too much about the LIVE production beyond everyone was pretty spot on, especially Walken who hit every mark magnificently. He’s such a pro for an 11 year-old, as the pressure must have been huge starring in a live musical Broadcast televised on National TV, and he nailed it beautifully. As did Krakowski. It’s no surprise why they wanted her for the part of the teacher, Miss Shields. Krakowski has the comic chops, the singing voice, those amazing dancer moves, and those long gorgeous dancer legs that are perfect for the show-stopping number, “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out“. It was a pretty amazing production, maybe one of the best LIVE musical broadcasts as of late that I have seen (although I haven’t seen many). Broderick stumbled a bit here and there, but his voice crackled with the same old school quality that this show requires. Overall, I’d give it a B+++ for B.B. gun awesomeness.
Ian Holcomb, Orlagh Cassidy, Aaron Gaines, Dewey Caddell. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Over at the Irish Repertory Theatre, I checked the second viewing requirement off my list in a manner unlike any other Christmases before.  Adapted by playwright, Anthony E. Palermo (Audie Award winning radio performer, dramatist, and educator), this strong theatrical company is performing the radio play of It’s a Wonderful Life in the same manner as it would have been done when a different adaptation (there have been a number of them) first aired in 1947, on Lux Radio Theater (March 10) and then twice on The Screen Guild Theater (December 1947, March 1951). This play presented as a 1940s radio show is based on the 1946 film and on Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story and booklet The Greatest Gift published in 1945. James Stewart and Donna Reed who starred in the classic Christmas film actually reprised their roles for all three of those radio productions. What a treat that must have been. And what a treat this radio play adaptation is as well.(for the full review, click here)
Haley Bond, Aaron Gaines. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

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