Melissa Rosenberger remembers the moment well, tearing through the wrapping paper of a box she was sure contained “more clothes,” but was soon overjoyed to find the Cabbage Patch Doll she had wanted more than anything.
Parents just love to do that, don’t they? Trick a kid into thinking they’ll be disappointed on Christmas, only to sweep in like heroes and win the day with the perfect present.
That, right there, is the essence of “A Christmas Story,” the movie the masses have loved for decades. It’s about humor, hope and wonder, not to mention just getting through the holidays relatively unscathed and, most importantly, together as a family.
So if you’re wondering (and many are) how similar MSU Theatre’s “A Christmas Story: The Musical” will be to Jean Shepherd’s 1983 movie, you can rest assured that all of these elements are firmly intact.
“There is a cult-like following with this story,” said Melissa, the director and choreographer. “I think its appeal is the common memory we share. The story was never dressed up to the point of being out of reach. Rather, it’s a lovely look at authentic family life during the holidays.”
The story, set in 1940, follows Ralphie Parker, a 9-year-old kid in small-town Indiana who wants nothing more than an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle. The obstacles standing in his way? A whole slew of grown-ups who are sure he would “shoot his eye out” if his wish was granted.
Melissa’s vision for MSU Theatre’s version of the story was to preserve the way Ralphie’s child-like and imaginative perspective shaped the movie. So unlike the Broadway version of “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” there won’t be over-the-top glitz and glam.
“I didn’t see this as a glitzy show,” she said. “I wanted it to look and feel similar to the way kids play at things, like when they build a tent around the kitchen table and suddenly it’s a fort. It all has to come from their imaginations – what they would do, how they would dress it up and pretend.”
The glam will be at a minimum, but the musical numbers will be big and will enhance the funniest, most iconic moments of the film.
“The iconic moments from the movie are intact but heightened,” she said. “The musical uses the humor as a launching pad into grand exaggerated moments. For example, the leg lamp not only arrives in the home, but soon thereafter we are transported through elaborate song and dance into a big musical number.”
At the same time, the musical version is a different way of telling the story, so Melissa never felt committed to presenting scenes exactly the way the movie does. She wanted the actors, including the many children in the production, to be able to “find the funny” for themselves and bring something of their own to the roles.
“The best part about working with the kids has been watching them play and explore, knowing the story is being told through their eyes,” Melissa said.
The hardest part, she said, has been educating the kids on what it was like to live in the 1940s.
“They say, ‘Oh yeah, we don’t have cell phones,’ and ‘Why aren’t we wearing jeans?’” she said. “I have to explain that boys and girls didn’t wear jeans to school then. When you went to school, you were rather dressed up.”
More than anything else Melissa hopes the musical will invite audiences to think fondly on their own family stories and memories of their childhood experiences.
“I hope they look at a story set in the 1940s and see how completely relevant it still is today,” she said. “We all have these shared stories and memories to laugh at. I love laughing at myself and hope everyone can join in.”
If you go
“A Christmas Story: The Musical” will be staged 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5-7 and 12-14; and 2 p.m. Nov. 7-8 and 14-15 in the Ted Paul Theatre, Early Center for Performing Arts, Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Tickets are $22 regular; $19 for senior citizens, youth 16 and under and groups of 15 or more; and $15 for MSU students.
For tickets, visit MSUTheatre.com or call 507-389-6661.