It’s the holiday season and options are abundant in the Jacksonville community but one familiar classic has landed in Fleming Island and shouldn’t be missed. A Christmas Story at The Island Theater is a beautiful presentation of the beloved movie live on stage.
Directed by Shelley Finn, the production is the play version of the hit movie and brings to life all the iconic scenes in an immersive atmosphere that guarantees you’ll feel like you are sitting right in the Parker’s living room. Audience members can sit near the infamous flagpole or sit at the front of the class with Miss Shields. Be sure to use appropriate margins on your homework though or you’ll be sorry. The sets in this show become a character in their own right as they really create a stunning frame for this marvelous production.
The show is deftly narrated by Daniel Bair (who appears in all performances). The audience is transported into the childhood of Ralph Parker as he navigates his way towards the ultimate Christmas gift – the infamous Red Ryder BB Gun – also known as the Official Red Ryder carbine action 200 Shot Range Ready with a compass and a thing that tells time right in the stock. It’s a mouthful to say but the cast says it with such enthusiasm throughout the show – you’ll be wanting to go down and grab one for under the tree just to get in on the fun. Daniel Bair is quite entrancing as he guides the audience through the vignettes that create the story. He moves from place to place to help transport you through the moments of the show.
For this production, Shelley Finn double casted the roles to allow the community to not only enjoy the show but for maximum participation. Saturday night’s production starred Jason Johnston as the long-suffering Old Man Parker and Erica Hicks as Mother Parker. Jason Johnston and Erika Hicks have both been seen recently in Island Theater productions but this was the first time they have shared the stage together. They seem a natural pair on stage and are convincing as the parents of Ralphie.
Ralphie, the younger incarnation of the narrator, is played by Nicholas Williams. Nicholas, or Nick to his friends, is a QI Roberts aerospace engineering student in Putnam county. He has appeared in Florida School of the Arts production of Ragtime and was Les in last year’s Newsies at The Island Theater. He plays an expressive Ralphie handling the part with great enthusiasm even when repeatedly told – “you’ll shoot your eye out” – he never gives up his quest.
The role of Randy was played by Ralphie’s real life sister, Olivia Williams. Olivia was last seen as Milky White in last month’s production of Into The Woods. Olivia is quite the doll on stage whether she is covered in oatmeal or letting us know she has to go “wee wee”. She has garnered quite the following with theater regulars as indicated by the crowd’s response during bows.
Ralphie and Randy are bullied by the nefarious Scut Farkus played by Skylar Ward. Until she takes off her hat after the show, you’d never know what a beautiful young lady is playing this terrible young man. Farkus’ howl and greenish teeth were one of the highlights of the show as it echoed favorite moments from the classic movie.
The cast is rounded out by an assortment of Ralphie’s friends played by young area actors. In this cast, Ralphie’s crush is played by Ashley Hicks (Esther Jane) and his best buddies are played by Jonathan Okey (Flick) and Tristan Mack (Schwartz).
The alternate cast is headed up by the Smith Family. Old Man Parker is played by Aaron Smith and Mother Parker by his wife, Jodi Smith. Ralphie is played by their son Tristan Smith (last seen in Oliver! as Oliver at The Island Theater) and Randy by their youngest child, Dagny Smith. It’s truly a family affair for this clan with their oldest daughter, Phaedra, working as stage crew and lighting designer for the play.
The director incorporated the alternate cast members in the show to play smaller roles to give the production a solid full feel. Because of this, Aaron Smith (alternate Old Man Parker) as Black Bart and Santa are enough to make us want to go see the alternate cast on stage as well.
The story is primarily one of Ralphie’s quests for his coveted Christmas present but it also involves side bits that occur along the way. As Shepard’s book and subsequent movie portray, the play also includes the slice-of-life stories that make the piece so popular. The day to day happenings around getting a Christmas Tree to the Major Award incident are what make the play interesting and the cast recreates these scenes well. Just like in the movie, the Major Award is the hideous leg lamp. The production has a perfect replica of the Leg Lamp on display during the show just for good measure. They are also raffling it off for those interested after the show ends.
As a newer community theater, The Island Theater is growing in size and production value as demonstrated by the wonderful use of the stage for the multiple settings in this show. Without a curtain to cover scene changes, they have found inventive ways to move from one scene to the next without causing long set-changing delays. As an audience member, I can appreciate not being taken out of the moment. Perhaps the only thing missing for the transitions is a little bit of Christmas music to cover the short pauses. While the production is not the musical version, it is the Christmas season after all.
Jean Shepard’s A Christmas Story is a fan favorite movie to be sure but it’s a little extra special seeing it live at The Island Theater. The cast and crew’s obvious love for the story shines through in their production in all the details. It’s definitely something to treat yourself to this holiday season.
A Christmas Story runs December 20-22nd. Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 pm and Sunday is at 2 pm. Be sure to buy your tickets online at www.theislandtheater.com or call 904-254-1455 to reserve seats as seating is limited to accommodate the unique staging requirements.