MANITOWOC, Wis. (WFRV) – Here is a rarity: The father, mother and one son in The Masquers theater troupe production of “A Christmas Story” are portrayed by a father, mother and son.
How’s that for charm?
As the Parker family the play, the Love family (no kidding) clicks in the central roles.
Another rarity: The actor who plays the narrator – the son grown up – is returning to his role from The Masquers production of 2011 while also serving as something he is especially good at: set designer.
While slightly off pace at times on opening night Thursday, the production is a warm-hearted, comical beauty.
The play version of “A Christmas Story” includes all the essentials that have made the 1983 movie so much a part of the Christmas viewing season each year, only live on stage:
The rowdy Bumpus dogs, the tongue stuck to the icy pole in the schoolyard, the smoky coal-burning furnace with The Old Man cussing up a storm, the slightly sassy leg lamp, the Lifebuoy soap in the mouth, the pink bunny sleeper, the struggle to write the best theme in the history of the world, the visit to a gruff Santa and his slide, the homey Parker home, young Ralphie Parker’s school, the schoolyard bully Scut Farkas, a fantasy with desperados, kid brother Randy flopping around on the ground like a caught fish in his too-too-much snowsuit, fantasies with Ralphie’s teacher and the other flashbacks to kid life in a small Indiana town the 1940s are all there.
And, of course, the quest for the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time. AND many people warning, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
This and that from the production:
+ Director Ellen Peronto also returns from the 2011 Masquers production to guide the players, especially nicely developing the interplay of the dozen or so youngsters who are everything from the leading boy to school kids to the renegade Bumpus dogs.
+ Tyler Love is in the fore as Ralphie Parker, handily carrying the centerpiece role as wannabe hero and regular boy trying to write a theme, fend off a girl and get that BB gun by hook or crook.
+ As Ralphie’s father, Christian Love gets to exaggerate The Old Man’s quirky ways from self-important to loud and angry to beside himself with joy (and disappointment) over his Major Prize, that leg lamp.
+ Heather Love is totally natural as Mom. She has a been-there, done-that feel on stage in a character dealing with the whims of a husband and son.
+ As the grown Ralph, Warren Schmidt engagingly leads the audience through the scenes with narration and sometimes becomes part of the action as a character. He weaves all around the stage, starting with the stage front, and knows all because he represents Jean Shepherd, who created this enduring slice of nostalgia in the first place.
+ Warren Schmidt’s stage-filling set with a whole lot of moving parts includes a special bit of reality – three 1940s vintage elements of a stove, refrigerator and sink for a touch of reality amid all the whimsy. The department store Santa scene includes a complex slide setup that requires Santa to be out of sight but still has a special kick to it.
+ The well-prepared players clue into so many things audiences enjoy and look for. They tap into the humor, goodness, goofiness, nostalgia and seasonal spice that Jean Shepherd cleverly and sweetly created.
Running time: Two hours, 43 minutes
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11, 12
Creative: Sources: 1983 movie “A Christmas Story” written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark and “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” written by Jean Shepherd; producer – Luan J. Leonardelli; director – Ellen Peronto; assistant director – Bruce Bitter; stage manager – Wendy Van Laarhoven; assistant stage manager – Pete Van Laarhoven; set designer – Warren Schmidt; master builder – Fred Schnell; set decorators – Luan J. Leonardelli, Ellen Peronto; costume master – Claran LaViolette; hair design – Lorraine Welhausen; make-up design – Taylor Rahne; properties – Amy Carpenter, Bekah Wiesner; sound technician – Jake Jacquart; sound effects – J Gravelle; lighting design – Noah Verhasselt
Ralph (Narrator) – Warren Schmidt
Mother – Heather Love
The Old Man – Christian Love
Ralphie Parker – Tyler Love
Randy – Evan Thiele
Flick – Andi Gallagher
Schwartz – Maksim Lara
Scut Farkas – Andrew Thiele
Esther Jane Alberry – Brooklyn Hebert
Helen Weathers – Teegan Seefeldt
Miss Shields – Elizabeth Plotka-Heinen
Santa Claus – Terry York
Cowboy / Delivery Man / Tree Lot Owner / Voice of Neighbor – T. J. Monroe
Elf – Susan Quinn-Mrotek
Mrs. Schwartz – Chris Jenswold
Extras – Bruce Bitter, Kayla Brawner, LuElla Monroe, Ronin Ordiway, Susan Quinn-Mrotek, Cayden Strauss, Bekah Wiesner
NEXT: “Over the River and Through the Woods” by Joe DiPietro, March 9-11.
THE VENUE: Renovation and upgrade projects of 2019 include new seating (with drink holders in the arms), technical upgrades and added public spaces. Located at 913 S. 8th St. in downtown Manitowoc, the 1,003-seat West Auditorium of Capitol Civic Centre features classically oriented styles befitting its 1921 origins as a combined vaudeville and movie palace. New lighting brightens the auditorium considerably. Two large, tiered, tear-drop clear crystal chandeliers grace shoulders on each side of the proscenium stage. All around is ornamentation – Corinthian capitals on faux columns, leaf-and-scroll braces beneath balcony and step-stage box seat areas, gold and red paint highlighting swirls and/or patterned geometric designs amid the cream-colored wall features. The ceiling is coffered. The fringe around the stage is ornate, with the stage curtain regal red with the Capitol Civic Center’s signature overlaid C’s standing out in the middle of the top hanging, which includes six tassels. Distinctive in the theater is the mezzanine, which is tucked far under the balcony and above the rear seats of the main floor. Also distinctive: Upper level signs say “OUT” instead of “EXIT.” The lobbies (the second level new in 2019) and meeting areas complement the rest of the theater in design. One area includes photo displays of stars and prominent personalities, including Charlton Heston and his wife, Two Rivers native, Lydia Clark Heston. The “Jewel on the Lakeshore” is home to 14 community arts, music and theater groups. Designed by local architect William J. Raueber and built by the local George Brothers, Arthur and John, the theater opened June 16, 1921, at Ascher Brothers’ Capitol Theatre under a lease agreement with the Chicago-based Ascher movie and vaudeville house operators. The current name dates to 1987, following restoration with the lead grant coming from the Ruth St. John and John Dunham West Foundation, Inc.
THE PEOPLE: John West was president of the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co. The foundation that bears the Ruth and John West name supports and fosters the arts, with the Rahr-West Art Museum another significant site in Manitowoc.