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'A Christmas Story The Musical' opens Friday at Peoria Players

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Anybody who doesn’t know about the holiday classic film “A Christmas Story” must not own a television or is a true bah-humbugger.

The film that chronicles one Christmas for little Ralphie and his family and friends, written and narrated by Jean Shepherd, is broadcast on a continuous 24-hour basis every Dec. 25 on TNT.

And now, you can see a musical theatre version of the iconic story starting Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at Peoria Players Theatre and continue for seven shows, through Sunday Nov. 20. It is the film “A Christmas Story” put on stage with music.

Does directing a show that virtually everybody knows, many can recite from memory and have certain expectations of lend itself to any pressure, Kelleen Nitsch?

“Well, it did take me a while before I agreed to direct it because there is such a huge expectation with it. We have to make sure we accomplish everything we can, including pulling off the iconic features from the film and pay the proper tribute to those things,” she said.

“But it’s a great cast and crew and we’ve done it,” she added.

This is Nitsch’s first directing gig at Peoria Players, but not her first overall by any stretch. She is the drama director at Eureka Middle School, on the staff in the theatre department at Eureka College, an experienced choreographer at all the local community theatre venues and she directed a version of “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” last year at the Peoria Riverfront Museum.

Also, she owns with her husband Matt the not-for-profit group Nitsch Theatre Arts, which produced “Sleepy Hollow” and aims to provide theatre arts opportunities in the region to all ages.

Oh, and before that she worked and directed in Florida before coming to Peoria four years ago.

One thing Nitsch has found in central Illinois is a lot of talent, from its youth to its adults and it has made the task of directing this show easier, she said.

“I have a fabulous cast and in this show I have been able to work with some people I have come to admire and respect from other shows,” she said, among them Chas Killen who portrays The Old Man and Barb Blackowicz, who portrays the mother.

She also has taught Isaac Leman, who portrays Ralphie, and Tristan Schonert, who is Randy. “It has been a great watching them grow,” she said. She also has worked with Josh Shepherd, who is the narrator (and is NOT related to the author Jean Shepherd) and Taylor Elizabeth, who play Mrs. Shields. “They are so talented,” Nitsch added.

The musical version of “A Christmas Story” is making its central Illinois regional premiere but despite the story being very well known it has not been without its challenges. Chief among them is the fact there is no rehearsal recording of the music and nobody in the cast had ever heard the music before rehearsals began.

Music director Nicole Fauser told Nitsch it was perhaps the toughest musical score she’s ever worked with, as well. “Lyrically I love the songs in the show but it has been a challenge to learn them, for the cast and the musicians,” she said. The show will have a nine-piece orchestra conducted by Fauser.

Another challenge has been designing and building a set that enables all the different scenes from the story to be played out, tough for a community theatre. The two-story house where Ralphie and his family live moves so other scenery can be used. Nitsch designed the set but she praised the volunteers who built it.

“We had fun doing it,” she said.

Others in the cast of 25 include the kids, Cole Rich as Scut Farkus, Owen Schmitt as Grover Dill, Jack Harmon as Schwartz, Jameson Warfield as Flick, Addie Bigger as Esther Jane, Eve Yoder as Mary Beth and Ella Blackowicz as Nancy.

“This show is a great way to kick off the holiday season,” Nitsch said.

Tickets are $20 for adults and $13 for students and can be purchased online at

Show times are 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 11, 12, 17, 18, and 19 and 2 p.m. on Nov. 13 and 20.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).