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Theater Review: ‘A Christmas Story, The Musical’

Wonderful musical version of film classic

By Judd Hollander Created: December 1, 2012 Last Updated: December 1, 2012
Related articles: Arts & Entertainment » Theatre
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Johnny Rabe (C) and the cast of kids sing up a storm. (Carol Rosegg)

Johnny Rabe (C) and the cast of kids sing up a storm. (Carol Rosegg)

NEW YORK—Sweet without being cloying and nostalgic without feeling suffocating, the Broadway debut of A Christmas Story, The Musical is a delightful holiday confection for children of all ages.

The musical (book by Joseph Robinette, music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) is based on the movie A Christmas Story, which was co-written and narrated by originating author Jean Shepherd.

The story beautifully creates a quintessential old-time feeling as seen through the eyes of a young boy.

It’s the beginning of December 1940, and 10-year-old Ralphie Parker (Johnny Rabe) of Hohman, Ind., dreams of an Official Red Ryder Range Model Carbine Action BB gun as a Christmas present.

However, his Mother (Erin Dilly) is firmly against the idea, dismissing it with the classic “You’ll shoot your eye out” defense.

Unfazed by this reaction, Ralphie keeps dropping hints on the subject everywhere he can: slipping them into conversations, writing an essay for school, and even putting in a request with Santa Claus himself (well, the local version of Santa anyway).

Told in flashback, with actor Dan Lauria as the grown-up Ralphie narrating the tale, the story beautifully creates a quintessential old-time feeling as seen through the eyes of a young boy.

A major part of the show’s success is due to Robinette’s book, which in many cases expands on the source material to provide additional character depth.

Thus Ralphie’s dad, also known as The Old Man (John Bolton), gets to extol about the virtues of winning a major award in one of the funniest musical numbers to hit the stage in a long time, while Dilly sings about the joys and responsibilities of being a mother, without the song feeling sexist or out of date in any way.

The show is also blessed with a marvelous ensemble of child actors, who sing, tap, and whirl with the best of them. The group really comes to the fore in a fantastic nightclub sequence featuring Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields (Caroline O’Connor).

This situation is one of several fantasy scenes Ralphie’s imagination conjures up in his quest for the BB gun.

Another big plus is the wonderful score, which includes the enjoyable “Ralphie to the Rescue” and “It All Comes Down to Christmas.” The two songs are heard several times throughout the show and involve most of the cast at one time or another.

John Bolton, singing a comic song, plays The Old Man. (Carol Rosegg)

John Bolton, singing a comic song, plays The Old Man. (Carol Rosegg)

Also quite good is The Old Man’s wistful “The Genius on Cleveland Street” and the gentle “Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana.”

Credit must also go Warren Carlyle’s choreography and Larry Blank’s orchestrations in the executions of these pieces.

Rabe is perfectly cast as Ralphie, a kid with a mission, which he’s bound and determined to achieve. Rabe also makes the character an enjoyable companion, offering a snapshot into Ralphie’s life as he finds joy and pain in his everyday experiences.

These experiences cover everything from being allowed to help fix the family car to taking on the neighborhood bullies.

Bolton is fine as The Old Man, a grouchy but amiable sort, who has a deep-seated need to be respected by those around him. Bolton also nicely plays off The Bumpus Hounds (dogs Pete and Lily), the bane of his existence.

Dilly meanwhile exudes both an earthy and caring feeling as Ralphie’s perennially patient and understanding mother.

Zac Ballard pushes all the right emotional buttons as Randy, Ralphie’s tag-along younger brother, and a kid with a number of little quirks and habits that his mother has to deal with. Ballard’s scenes with Dilly are especially good.

Lauria does a decent job with the narrator role, delivering his lines with a nice mix of deadpan and wryness, though he does seem to be trying too hard to put across some of the speeches at points.

Also deserving of mention is O’Connor, who is very good as the prim and proper Miss Shields—a character who gets a chance to show off a more outrageous side, thanks to Ralphie’s imagination.

John Rando’s direction is simply crackerjack, skillfully blending elements of nostalgia, humor, and just a bit of dramatic tension as the story builds to its conclusion.

There’s even a bit of satire present in a very funny and probably all-too-true scene with an overworked department store Santa and some rather cranky elves.

The sets by Walt Spangler fit the musical perfectly without distracting from the action, and the costumes by Elizabeth Hope Clancy give off an accurate feeling to the story presented—right down to the bunny suit.

“A Christmas Story, The Musical” offers a wonderful treat for fans of the much-loved 1983 film, as well as for those who have never seen the movie; the show is able to completely stand on its own.

It’s also a musical one hopes will return to Broadway in the Christmas seasons to come.

Also in the cast are Joe West, J.D. Rodriguez, Jeremy Shinder, Analise Scarpaci, Jack Mastrianni, John Babbo, Grace Capeless, Sarah Min-Kyung Park, Thay Floyd, Beatrice Tulchin, Mark Ledbetter, Eddie Korbich, Kirsten Wyatt, Lindsay O’Neil, Andrew Cristi, Tia Altinay, Charissa Bertels, Nick Gaswirth, Jose Luaces, and Lara Seibert.

A Christmas Story, The Musical
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
205 West 46th Street
Tickets: 877-250-2929 or visit www.ticketmaster.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Closes: Dec. 30

Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.

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