A Christmas Story, The Musical
nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
November 17, 2012
Every year new theatrical choices arrive in the Big Apple, hoping to become a mainstay in the holiday choices for tourist and homies alike. This year for Broadway fare add A Christmas Story, The Musical which is based on the 1983 now cult classic film A Christmas Story. Both film and musical are based on writer and radio-TV personality Jean Shepherd's semi-autobiographical story set in the 1940’s of 9-year-old Ralphie Parker's desperate attempt to receive a Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock, and "this thing which tells time" (a sundial) as a Christmas gift, despite warnings from everyone that “You’ll shoot your eye out!” It is not a complicated plot, but I, like many, am fond of this film and had my doubts about the treatment for it as a musical. Can they recapture the sharply drawn quirky characters and the many key moments (tongue on flag pole, bunny pajamas, cranky Santa & elves, etc.)? I am very happy to say that the piece has survived, mostly intact, and is one of the most entertaining holiday shows that I have seen in years.
The creative team is impressive, with Tony-winning director John Rando doing a stellar job with the staging, and Tony-nominated choreographer Warren Carlyle who knocks it out of the ballpark with one zany creative blockbuster number after another. The number where lampshades dance with humans alone is worth the price of admission. The music and lyrics are by the young very talented duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who are making their Broadway debuts. They give us tunes that are memorable combined with wicked witty lyrics, and we should be looking forward to a bright future for this team. The book by Joseph Robinette honors the film while making adroit adjustments for the stage version. Set design by Walt Spangler is wonderfully festive and wildly functional, as is costume design by Elizabeth Hope Clancy and hair & wig design by Tom Watson. Howell Binkley's lighting design goes a long way in supporting the action, and is especially outstanding in the dream sequences from Ralphie’s imagination. The “Ralphie to the Rescue” number, where he envisions himself saving everyone from peril with his new BB Gun, is priceless. There are also wonderful orchestrations by 2011 Tony nominee Larry Blank and sound design by Ken Travis.
The cast of newbie kids and veteran troupers is richly talented across the board. Let’s talk about the wee ones first, since they are key in this production. Johnny Rabe as Ralphie, and Zac Ballard as younger brother Randy both give us charmingly straight forward readings of roles that could come across as too “precious” in the wrong hands. Both lads also have impressive vocal ranges which are shown off well. All of the kids in the show are top notch, but special note must be given to 9-year-old tap dance prodigy Luke Spring who does a tap solo in a fantasy scene that has the audience cheering. The adult ensemble is equally entertaining, with a chorus of triple threats playing multiple smaller roles. In the leads, John Bolton as The Old Man, sings and dances up a storm, and reminds me of the legendary Ray Bolger from old classic films. Erin Dilly, as Mother, finds a nice balance as the straight character in this house of chaos, and performs two touching ballads beautifully. Caroline O'Connor is a comic riot as the frustrated school teacher Miss Shields, and Eddie Korbich gets the brief but pivotal role of Santa Claus. Dan Lauria, who last appeared on Broadway in a wonderful turn in the title role in Lombardi, portrays narrator Jean Shepherd, and comes across as warm, sincere, and touching, with just the right touch of humor.
There are many familiar moments from the movie in this show, but the piece also stands on its own. It is a veritable buffet of theatrical delights for all ages, and should be a welcome addition to anyone’s holiday plate!