Bricolage’s delightful production of Midnight Radio: A Christmas Story brings the immortal Jean Shepherd’s holiday classic full circle. No, more like an upward spiral, to get three-dimensional about it.
Hey, it’s the season for “begats,” right? Some genealogy is in order. Philip Grecian, in 2000, adapted the 1983 movie A Christmas Story for his stage play. The film, co-written by Leigh Brown (the then-Mrs. Shepherd) and Bob Clark with Shepherd (who also narrated), was in turn adapted from Shepherd’s 1966 novel In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, with a smidgen of his Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, from 1971. Those books were drawn from Sheppie’s (as his fans called him) tales told on his long-running (1955-77) late-night show on New York’s WOR, with stints elsewhere on the dial into the 1990s.
Bricolage’s multi-talented five-person troupe is multiply cast into several roles each, all providing sound effects as well, under the direction of company artistic director Jeffrey Carpenter. Producing artistic director Tami Dixon leads the cast as the 9-year-old Ralphie, as well as other boys and girls battling snow and bullies in Hohman, Ind. Her incantation of “Red Ryder carbine-action, 200- shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time” is pure Zen.
Monteze Freeland, in perfect voice as the adult Ralphie narrating the story, revels in the rituals and language of children. He also does a mean (in several senses of the word) Santa Claus. The ever-ebullient Tony Bingham embodies The Old Man (Ralphie’s father): his rapid mutterings at all the frustrations of his life, his battles with the furnace, his pride in his Major Award. And without an extra breath, Bingham turns into Ralphie’s hapless buddie, Flick. Adam Seligson moves between the barely verbal little brother, Randy, and vicious bully Scut Farkus. Playing authority figures like Mom and the teacher, Maura Underwood nicely transforms into a little girl with a crush on Ralphie.
Midnight Radio: A Christmas Story — like Midnight Radio productions in general — is wonderfully musical. Wait till you see/hear the celebration of the Major Award, and the twisted-carol version of the jingle for the “show’s sponsor,” Meatloaf and Cabbage. (Dixon wrote the “commercials.”) Live accompaniment by music director/pianist and by Cello Fury (an amazing trio with a memorable solo performance) provides just the right notes (ouch) for a production brimming with energy and merriment. Adding to the cheer of this nicely wrapped package are sound engineer Brendan Kepple, technical director and scene designer Hank Bullington, stage manager Phill Madore and assistant director Parag S. Gohel.
Instituting a now-well-established radio genre, Shep (1921-99) mixed stories, reminiscences, commentary and pranks — all improvised — for a devoted and wide audience. So, the original elements of A Christmas Story started not as a radio play (which Midnight Radio isn’t, either), but definitely on the radio. Bricolage’s Midnight Radio: A Christmas Story reincarnates what’s already a classic into a new life.