ALHAMBRA THEATRE AND DINING REVIEW
A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW BY DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Jacksonville’s Alhambra Theatre opened its annual Christmas show on November 23, 2016 with the area premier of “A Christmas Story.” The production will remain on stage through December 24. If you want to see it, call the Alhambra and get on a waiting list; while it’s currently sold out, cancellations do occur from time to time.
The initial inspiration for this nostalgic look at the past came from a book by author and radio entertainer Jean Shepherd. “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” first published in 1966, is filled with stories of small-town life and became a best seller. After a film adaptation was released in theatres in 1983, television screenings followed, and the film is now considered a Christmas classic. A musical version made it to Broadway in 2012, but don’t expect to see it anytime soon, as the rights aren’t widely available. Phillip Grecian’s stage version, released in 2000, has also achieved classic status.
Alhambra Director/Producer Tod Booth has brought Grecian’s version of the original story to life. The play is set in Indiana in the early 1940s; that past era is part of the charm of the production. The play is centered around family, teenagers, and young kids. Families have radios and homespun humor, but no televisions, no cell phones, no iPads.
The show is narrated by Ethan Paulini, playing Ralph as an adult who relates a memorable story from his childhood. The young Ralphie, portrayed by Oliver Carson, wants a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model BB gun for Christmas, and engages in humorous maneuvers to persuade his parents to buy one for him (of interest, Amazon carries a version of the 1938 Red Ryder model at a modest cost).
Mrs. Parker, his practical mother played by Jazmin Gorsline, doesn’t want him to have a BB gun, she’s afraid he might shoot his eye out. His father, known as The Old Man (Robert Herrle), isn’t overly concerned. He’s a business man, but apparently not a successful one, as his mail contains bills, bills, and more bills. He enjoys entering contests and is delighted when he wins a prize which he proudly displays in the living room window, much to the dismay of his wife: the prize is a large lamp with a provocatively shapely leg as a base.
A lot of the funny stuff from the film occurs on stage in this play. You’ll encounter the Santa Slide, the Bunny Suit, the malfunctioning furnace, and a stolen turkey, and Flick (Johnny Warren) does regret licking a frozen flag pole.
The three adults previously mentioned were joined by Miss Shields (Alexia Adcock-Stanford), the prim school teacher. Seven-year-old Harrison Davey plays Randy, Ralphie’s younger brother. The other children who are school mates or neighborhood friends include Schwartz (Vincent Scaramuzzi), Helen (Dakota Burton), Esther (Sophia Feagins) and the bully Scut Farkus (Kaden Quilers). The kids, who are quite involved in the action on stage, have many entrances and exits and are excellent with their timing.
The beloved moments in this family-friendly comedy delighted both adults and children on gala night. Executive Chef DeJuan Roy offered four entries and we can recommend the Holiday Feast, with hand carved turkey, baked ham, cornbread stuffing, sweet potato soufflé and garlic green beans.
The costumes by Camala Pitts and Dorinda Quiles were colorful and reflected the era. The terrific set by Dave Dionne and Ian Black is a cutaway view of a two story home, with Ralphie’s bedroom on the second floor.
Coming up next is the New Year’s Eve Gala, once again the biggest and best show in town with a Las Vegas style concert showcasing the music of Elton John, Billy Joel, and Jerry Lee Lewis, along with great food and dancing throughout the evening to the music of The Crescendo Amelia Big Band.
The first show of 2017 in a limited run during January 4 – January 22 is Neil Simon’s “Come Blow Your Horn,” which was the very first show ever done on the Alhambra’s stage (some readers may remember that Frank Sinatra appeared in the 1963 movie). The cast of six will include local favorites Tod Booth, Lisa Valdini, and Jessica Booth. Of note: tickets for this first show of the Alhambra’s Fifty Year Celebration, which will include meals by Chef DeJuan Roy, will be priced at just $50 for two tickets, so come along and join the festivities!