From now through Sunday, December 31st, the Ahmanson Theatre will present a special engagement of A Christmas Story, The Musical, which will be directed by Matt Lenz, choreographed by Warren Carlyle, and feature a bountiful number of SoCal natives among the cast.
Since making its debut in 2009, the Joseph Robinette-written A Christmas Story, The Musical later went on to warm hearts on Broadway in 2012 where it earned three Tony Award nominations. Based on the 1983 classic film — which to this day is still played in 24-hour marathon chunks on Turner stations throughout the holiday season — the musical sprinkles in some lively tunes from modern maestros, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, whose catchy songwriting has been widely acclaimed in The Greatest Showman, La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen, and more.
The 1940-based musical, like the film, has a dream-state quality to it and explores the ardent desire by 9-year-old Ralphie Parker of Indiana to come in the possession of a Red Ryder Carbine Action Range Model Air Rifle for Christmas. With a series of scenes perceived through the eyeglasses of Ralphie — and narrated by an older, more reflective version of him — audiences can’t help but root for the rosy-cheeked and sometimes awkward boy to triumph on Christmas morning. The premise is so engrossing that audiences can at least understand, even if they have no affinity for a BB gun themselves, why Ralphie is drawn to the item so much.
Like all evocative stories that keep audiences in suspense until the final minute, A Christmas Story, The Musical aims to please by stirring memories of the movie’s nostalgia while also introducing newer elements that add, not detract, from an enduring pop-culture phenomenon.
Among the characters who add to the narrative’s intrigue is stern teacher Miss Shields, who along with other characters, admonishes Ralphie for his pined-after Christmas gift. Miss Shields will be portrayed by Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s Shelley Regner whom many might recognize as Ashley Jones in the popular trio of Pitch Perfect films and as a touring member of Disney Music Group’s DCappella.
LAexcites recently spoke with Regner who previewed her role as Miss Shields, how the musical compares to the film, and the impact of Pasek and Paul’s music on the show.
You are making your Ahmanson Theatre debut as Miss Shields, a teacher to Ralphie and his classmates. Perhaps it’s a more natural role than others given that a lot of performers graciously teach in their spare time. Have you taught before and, if so, how have you used those experiences to inform your character in A Christmas Story?
Regner: Yeah, funnily enough, I haven’t taught theater or singing, although I’ve done lessons here and there. My teaching goes back to being a camp counselor when I was in my late teens with kindergartners and first-graders; these kids [in the show] are a little older than that.
I love kids and being able to see their fresh faces and having the opportunity to impart something onto them. My personal style as a teacher would be more as a best friend, and this is my first role in being more of an authoritative figure. Miss Shields is someone who loves her rules and dictates the margins [laughs].
Do you feel a sense of pressure in delivering a show that resonates with audience members just as profoundly as the 1983 film has?
Regner: I do think there is a certain kind of pressure that comes along with delivering on a beloved IP that people have grown up with or has become a tradition with families or the holidays in general. For example, when you have certain books that become translated into movies, you want to make sure all your favorite parts are honored. With the staging, story, and direction, I feel this brings all the favorite parts and iconic moments to life.
So, I think audiences of all ages will enjoy the stage presentation. The musical version of this movie heightens the exciting moments that people remember when they think of A Christmas Story.
What is your favorite part in the classic film, and is it more or less the same as your favorite moment in the musical?
Regner: Great question. Like I was saying before, I think the music heightens all those iconic moments like with the tongue sticking to the pole, seeing Santa in the mall, with the dad, the grumpy old man, and that whole dynamic. I think for me, there are some different moments that have become my favorite in the stage show more than in the movie. For instance, we have fantasy sequences with Ralphie getting the Red Ryder BB gun, saving the day, and being the hero in getting his Christmas present. With the musicality, staging, dancing, and all the elements that make a musical production, there is a lot more going on.
To portray what is in a kid’s mind and his fantasy, to bring that out with the music and movement is so much fun. When you’re watching the movie, those moments can go by quickly, which the musical brings to life more.
Do you think any aspect of the musical conveys the premise’s warm-hearted themes better than the film, or vice versa?
Regner: I may be biased in saying that I adore musicals; music is so universal. I think a lot of this music by Pasek and Paul does a wonderful job in gripping those heartstrings, like with the moments between Ralphie and his mother, what it’s like to be a kid and get into trouble, and seeing that your parents are there for you.
The whole thing is about love and family, and everything that tugs at heartstrings during the holidays. With the musical, you get a little more of a sense of those heartwarming moments, which are weighted a little more with the songs and ballads, especially Sabrina Sloan who plays the Mother, with a song called ‘Just Like That’ after Ralphie gets into a fight with a bully. It’s about a mother’s love and how certain moments seem big and never-ending, but life goes on. It’s such a beautiful melody and the family dynamic of it touched me in a way I wasn’t expecting. There’s also the big finale number that encompasses the excitement and joy of the holiday season and remembering that it’s all about love. So, I do think the musical in a way brings that more forward with the songs, but that will vary from person to person.
Some might like the straight, traditional movie better, but we also have Jean Shepherd (old Ralphie) who is walking about and narrating on stage. Ultimately, I think everyone will be able to grasp their favorite parts of the movie when watching the musical.
Your character is particularly featured in the Act II number, “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.” That sounds like fun. What has the rehearsal process been like for this number?
Regner: We’re still in rehearsals; we have a week left before we get into tech. It’s been really exciting for me as I’m the only adult that gets to play and interact with the kids. It’s a group of 12 kids in the show and they’re so extremely talented, and we get to do a giant tap routine. When I think of musical theatre, you got to have a tap number in there — and that’s in ‘You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out,’ which is also an iconic line in the movie and musical.
My feet are so sore from stomping around and tapping, but it’s well worth it. The song is vibrant and lively with these show-stopping kids who sing, dance, and act at the same time. They really deliver on what they’re asked to do in this show, and I’m honored. They keep me on my toes, no pun intended [laughs]. We have an eight-time world tap champion and prodigy in the cast, and their talent far surpasses mine.
I was dusting off [my tap shoes] for my audition and return to the musical theatre world, which has been a beautiful challenge for me. I have been practicing at home, doing dishes while working on my tap steps to learn the choreography, which is accompanied by singing in a musical number that features moving chairs, tables, and set pieces. I was looking at my legs and I have bruises and was thinking musical theatre can be a dangerous sport sometimes [laughs]. But that’s thankfully why we have the rehearsal process so we’re ready to present when everything opens.
The genius duo of Pasek and Paul has been reviewed mostly favorably for their songwriting in A Christmas Story, the Musical. Why do you think their score is so effective at bringing something novel to an already beloved story? And how have director Matt Lenz and choreographer Warren Carlyle made full use of Pasek and Paul’s melodies and lyrics?
Regner: Pasek and Paul are such an incredibly talented team that I think I would just say the work speaks for itself. I would imagine — I haven’t met them personally myself — they love the movie themselves or love what they do and are able to create these musical numbers and melodies from the ballads all the way up to these giant production choral numbers.
When you particularly look at the 1940s timeframe we’re working in, [Pasek and Paul] have brought back the traditional era of Broadway. I don’t know what their magic ingredient is in bringing music to life the way they do, but they’re doing something right in crafting their music and compositions to each project they’re working on so eloquently and beautifully, and I think it’s no different for this show as well.
And with Matt’s direction and Warren’s choreography, it’s such a collaborative effort to bring these elements and have them aid the music. When you have a team who can work together and paint this mosaic per se, to bring this beloved story to life, and when everyone is very good at their jobs, it lends itself to an incredible product to watch and, in my case, to perform. And then you have associate choreographer Brooke Martino who has helped teach Warren’s choreography; they all do such a great job of catering to each person and cast member.
This is a timeless story the majority of people know, so there’s an expectation of what the story is and an expectation on the performers to be at a certain level. Thankfully, everyone is delivering to the best of their ability and I’m excited to be at the Ahmanson and have L.A. see it.
What I also love is that it’s mostly a Southern California cast. As opposed to a Broadway tour cast out of New York and coming through the area, it’s special to have local talent being performed on this stage. My hope is it does well enough that Center Theatre Group can cultivate Los Angeles talent to perform at this venue. There’s so much musical theatre talent in this area and I’m excited to work with them.
For further details, including ticket information, about A Christmas Story, The Musical at the Ahmanson Theatre (through Sunday, December 31st), visit: centertheatregroup.org.