Santa has delivered a mixed bag of goodies just in time for the holidays. A CHRISTMAS STORY, the musical - based on the book “In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash” by Jean Shepherd and movie (1983) with Leigh Brown and Bob Clark is now on view at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre through December 30th. It has been adapted by Joseph Robinette (book) with a more than serviceable score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
I have never seen the movie. And so, I arrived not knowing a thing about nine year old Ralphie’s obsessive desire to receive a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun for Christmas. And so I arrived with an open mind looking forward to this show that has a great buzz surrounding it.
The story takes place in Indiana circa 1940 where guns were toys and not used to shoot up schools. Times and attitudes were different then. Mother Parker (the excellent Erin Dilly - looking like Blondie from the Dagwood comic strip) is a stay at home mom, concerned with loving and feeding and preparing her two sons - bespectacled Ralphie (Johnny Rabe alternating with Joe West) and Randy (an adorable Zac Ballard who has a fondness for hiding under the sink and not eating his food) for school while dealing with her husband “The Old Man” (a larger than life John Bolton with a hang dog look channeling Dick Van Dyke) who curses a blue streak of gibberish, is a crossword puzzle fanatic and chronic complainer beset by bills, a bad furnace and a flat tire and is chased by the neighbor’s two bloodhounds (Pete & Lily).
This very slight storyline is held together by the narration of author and renowned storyteller Jean Shepherd (Dan Lauria) who pops in and out of the flashback scenes recalling this one very special Christmas when he was nine and wanted that very special gun and taking the show down a few pegs in the process.
Where is the wonder, the humor and the passion of this grown man? It’s hard to imagine that the precocious young Ralphie grew up to become this rather dull person.
The rest of the show has been propped up nicely by two excellent “fantasy” production numbers - “Ralphie to the Rescue” and “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” featuring the tiniest, impressive tap dancer on Broadway, Luke Spring. Choreography by Warren Carlyle with direction by John Rando perk up the proceedings immensely.
When Ralphie cannot convince his mom, he goes to his teacher Miss Shields (a fine Caroline O’Connor) and then to a cranky and alcoholic swilling Santa (Eddie Korbich). We never doubt that he’ll get his gun - it just takes a while to get through all the obstacles put in place - which include a couple of bullies who treat the co-ed chorus of “wimps” badly until Ralphie steps up to the plate, pink bunny pajamas, a tongue sticking to a cold flagpole, the two bloodhounds and a large leg lamp that his dad wins in a contest “A Major Award”- another great production number. All silly stuff but family fun nonetheless.
While A CHRISTMAS STORY, the musical spreads nostalgic, endearing and sometimes delightful moments across the footlights - in fits and starts, it doesn’t fully deliver the hoped for charming and inspired package of goodies. But who can resist a chorus of tap dancing kids, a plastic leg lamp and a pair of capricious canines?
www.AChristmasStorythemusical.com Photos: Carol Rosegg
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