Sunday, November 23, 2014


Reviewed by Rick Busciglio    November 21, 2014

christmas story picA Christmas Story the Musical had its New Jersey premiere last night at the Barn Theatre in Montville. It is directed by Scott Hart, one of the producers of the Broadway musical (a Tony nominee last year). We are doubtful if anyone not as intimately involved with the New York production as Hart could have pulled-off this amazing large scale production. The sheer size of the cast—combining some of the most experienced, most talented, area performers with a sprinkling of talented novices, largely of the juvenile variety, has to have been a major challenge. Wow… did he with musical director Charles Santoro, choreographer Megan Ferentinos and producer Nancy Zeidenberg deliver in all areas. This production can best be described with two words...JOY and JOY—one for each act.  

Not familiar with the original Christmas Story? Back in the dark ages—the 1950's—radio station WOR in New York featured a lone late night gentleman Jean Shepherd. Jean was a master story teller who could weave a single fascinating story for the length of the program. Working largely with only notes, no formal script, he enlightened and entertained the late night radio audience (including this writer who was commuting at that hour from his stagehand job at WATV-13 in Newark to, of all places, Montville, New Jersey, home of the Barn Theatre.)

Jean's most popular story, possibly autobiographical, The Christmas Story was made into a film that has since become a TV cult-classic at Christmas time, now developed into a musical for the stage.   It is the story of Ralphie and his family (Mom, Dad and brother Randy, and his "comic quest for the Holy Grail of Christmas gifts—an Official Red Ryder, carbine-action 200-shot Range Model air rifle."  In that period, many comic books had a display ad on the back cover for the Red Ryder, carbine-action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. Red Ryder was a comic book hero the equal of the Lone Ranger. (see the ad below)

Please understand that part of the enjoyment of this musical version comes from being familiar with the is fun knowing what is Dad's special prize from the crossword contest, or what is Ralphie's Christmas gift from his distant aunt, or the Christmas turkey disaster, the tongue and the flagpole, etc. 

A XMASBringing this fun tale to life is a wonderful, exuberant cast led by Bob Mackasek (photo left) as Jean Shepherd. Mackasek is simply terrific. Not hard seeing him in the same role on any stage including NYC. His warm, at-ease style, with a twinkle in his voice, is the glue that holds the show together-a bit of a cliché, but appropriate. Like the narrator in Our Town, he breaks the fourth wall directing his comments to the audience. Ralphie and his family are each a marvelous bit of casting. Ralphie is played by Jeffrey Gallup, a Montville 7th grader with impressive credits. Playing younger brother Randy, reluctant eater, master of hiding under the sink and lack of snowsuit mobility, is Matthew Quirk. Fine voiced Cheryl Marocco Bookstaver, with 40's style hair and costume nicely projects a loving, caring, self-less mother and wife. Garnering many of the laughs as father, early painted as a "potty-mouthed" buffoon, but later showing his love for family when it counts, is the impressively talented Barn veteran Tom Schopper. Schopper, like his co-leads, is spot-on. They each project great pleasure in having this opportunity to perform in such an audience pleasing show.

That takes us back to the word that best describes the talented full cast of 30....exuberant. Leading the supporting cast is former Perry winner (NJ Community Theatre's Best Actress Award) Lynn Hart. Hart has great fun as Ralphie's school teacher. This multi-talented lady brightens every stage with her triple play of acting, singing and dancing talent. 

Other standouts in the supporting cast are: Jacob Lesser (Schwartz); Luke Mitchell (Flick); Liam Driscoll (Scut); James Ignacio (Grover Dill); Craig Stevens (Santa); Pearl Hart (Mrs. Schwartz); Katie Weigl (Head Elf); and Jonathan Galvez (Chinese Waiter).

Not to be over looked is the wonderful ensemble of adults and youngsters who sing and dance, including a neat tap number. Ayla Schwartz , Amanda Vogel, Dana Efron, Zachary Petzinger, Megan Bodmer, Anita Freedson-Jackson, Alan Van Antwerp, Roxanna Wagner, Salvatore Bellomo, Michal Efron, Vinnie Plantamura, Nikki Simz, James Lopez, Evie Turner-Salerno, James Russo, and Susan Hagen. The show's fun, bright dance numbers are choreographed by one of our areas leading dance creators Megan Ferentinos. Charles Santoro leads the ten member orchestra that includes Chris Curcio, Joe Mankin, Carol Hamersma, Rick Savage, Federico Perez, Jessica Miller, Melissa Encarnacion, John Ferrariand and Bill Trigg.

Director Scott Hart's creative team includes:  Assistant Director: Lauren Moran Mills, Producer: Nancy Zeidenberg, Stage Manager: Erin Gilgur, Assistant Stage Manager: Regina Novicky, Set Design: Greg Cilmi, Set Construction: Todd Mills, Stage Crew: Jeff Kinkead, Rita La Manno, Ron Mulligan, Daniel Schopper, Thomas Wertheimer, Lighting Design: Nicholas Marmo, Sound Design: Larry Wilbur, Props: William Ward, Props-Crew: Sarah Wertheimer-Lopez, Costumes: Janice Schopper.

The Barn Theatre of Montville, New Jersey will be presenting A Christmas Story the Musical with book by Joseph Robinette, and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, through December 13. Remaining performances are on November 28, 29, December 5, 6, 12, 13 at 8 pm; and on November 22, 23, 30, December 7 at 2 pm. Tickets are $24 (senior/student tickets are $22 on matinees only).

Here is the sad news: THE SHOW IS SOLD OUT!  It sold out prior to the first performance! Call anyway just in case they add performances or have ticket cancellations. This is four star entertainment. 

The Barn Theatre is located on Skyline Drive in Montville, NJ, just minutes off Exit 47 from Route 287. For more reservations, information or directions, call The Barn Theatre Box Office at (973) 334-9320, or visit The Barn Theatre on the web at

P.S. I was 45 when I finally got my Red Ryder rifle (legal in Virginia where we lived).

Top photo: (Left to Right): Matthew Quirk (as Randy), Cheryl Marocco Bookstaver (as Mother), Tom Schopper (as The Old Man), and Jeffrey Gallup (as Ralphie) Photo by Anthony Michael Salerno

Mid-Photo: Bob Mackasek (as Jean Shepherd), Jeffrey Gallup (as Ralphie), Cheryl Marocco Bookstaver (as Mother), Matthew Quirk (as Randy) and Tom Schopper (as The Old Man) Photo by Anthony Michael Salerno