If it is the holiday season on Broadway the inevitable limited runs of holiday movies turned into musicals appear. In 2012 both Elf: the Musical and How The Grinch Stole Christmas return to New York City and White Christmas is touring to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. New to the mix is A Christmas Story-The Musical. The difference with the newcomer? It's not just another pedestrian transfer from film to stage. Yes, the majority of the classic scenes from the film are recreated on stage. What's different about A Christmas Story - The Musical is that it manages to maintain the heart of Jean Shepherd's story.
You would have to be a very young child or someone who doesn't come across the annual TBS 24 hour broadcast of the film to not be familiar with the story of Ralphie Parker and his quest for a Red Rider BB Gun for Christmas. (You'll shoot your eye out, kid!). Adapted from Mr. Shepherd's stories and the screenplay he co-wrote with Bob Clark and Leigh Brown, the book by Joseph Robinette is not afraid to tinker with the beloved memories of the iconic moments forever preserved on celluloid. Some elements are cut, other are shaped in ways that that focus the story on the relevant plot points. Best of all the Parker family comes across as a real family with struggles and fights that make them real. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score is for the most part fun where it needs to be and heartfelt in ways that enhance the characters. In short, if you have to pick one of the holiday films to musicals, A Christmas Story - The Musical should be at the top of your list.
Director John Rando has assembled a cast that contains a lively children's ensemble, good support from the corresponding adult ensemble and at the center of the tale a wonderful quartet as the Parker family. Choreographer Warren Carlyle turns most of the large production numbers into whimsical fun. Only a couple of numbers seem to cross the line into oddity for the sake of spectacle, particularly the 1930's speakeasy fantasy "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out," despite a heroic performance by Caroline O'Connor's Miss Shield's and her tap dancing pint-sized gangsters. On the brighter end is the genius of "Ralphie To The Rescue" as our hero images all the criminals he will thwart once he has his trusty BB gun.
Johnny Rabe has terrific stage presence as he takes on the iconic role of Ralphie, forever immortalized by Peter Billingsley in the film (he is a producer of the musical). Zac Ballard channels the annoying little brother Randy. John Bolton plays The Old Man as just this side of mugging to the audience, but his delight in his "A Major Award." is a highlight of act one. Erin Dilly is the quiet center of the Parker family storm. A nice touch is her "What A Mother Does" which should bring recognition from every mother in the theater and a poignancy to the character that wasn't given this much depth on film.
Dan Lauria is our trusted guide as he narrates the story as Jean Shepherd performing his old radio program. Mr. Lauria makes you believe the story is the story of his childhood and he just might elicit a few moist eyes before the evening is through.
Go see A Christmas Story-The Musical. You'll see dancing leg lamps, Flick with his tongue stuck to the flagpole and Randy hiding under the sink. You'll see a warm family musical that will bring a smile to your heart.
A Christmas Story-The Musical is in a limited run at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City through December 30, 2012. For tickets and other performance information please visit www.achristmasstorythemusical.com.