Friday, November 23, 2012

theatre review A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL, Broadway, Nov 15

The 1983 quirky film A Christmas Story is the latest holiday "classic" movie to get a musical adaptation.  Based on radio humorist Jean Shepherd's stories of being a boy in Indiana in the 1940's, the film and musical follow young Ralphie's quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.  The movie can be seen in heavy rotation during the holiday season on TBS and like the film, the musical captures just about every humorous, odd ball and touching moment of Ralphie and his families Christmas story in a whimsical and heart warming style.

It is a well done adaptation with a nice theatrical score, winning performances, fun choreography and a well used ensemble.  After having performances in several cities last year, the show is making it's Broadway debut this season and while I'm sure this musical will have return engagements on Broadway in the future I definitely believe this show will have a huge life in regional and community theatres for years to come.

Dan Lauria and Johnny Rabe
 Centering around a traditional middle class family who is trying to do what needs to be done not only to survive in the 1940's but also to make it through another Christmas season, the musical sticks fairly close to the film and brings to life many of the iconic scenes from the movie as well.  With a book by Joseph Robinette and Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, all of whom are making their Broadway debuts, the musical brings to theatrical life not only the infamous leg shaped lamp but also the scene with a boy licking a frozen lamp pole, Ralphie in a pink bunny suit, the crazy dogs next door and Ralphie's little brother stuffed into a child's snow suit, along with such phrases as "triple dog dare ya," "oh fudge," "fra-gie-leh" and of course "you'll shoot your eye out."  These humorous moments and phrases when combined with the touching story at the core are what have made the movie a classic.  Fortunately the creative team along with Director John Rando and Choreographer Warren Carlyle have managed to not dumb down or sanitize the kooky and edgier moments in the story and in fact have actually made it a more joyous affair with the addition of the top notch songs and very inventive choreography.  I seriously appreciated that the couple of PG-13 moments in the film are still present in the musical version.

John Bolton, Johnny Rabe, Erin Dilly and Zac Ballard
While it helps to have seen the film, even if you have never seen the movie you will find much to like about A Christmas Story, the Musical.  It helps that Dan Lauria is playing the older "Ralphie" who is telling the story of what happened to him and his family during this one Christmas season.  Lauria has the right amount of balance not only in the fondness he has at looking back but also at the memory of all of the things that went wrong in the process of his attempt to get that BB gun.  Lauria provided the same balance in his most famous role as the father in the tv show The Wonder Years so it is fairly a natural transition for Lauria.  And while Lauria is basically only used as the narrator of the story, just like Jean Shepherd was in the movie version, it is a bit of a downside that while he is weaved throughout the show, they really haven't found a way to more seamlessly incorporate him into the show -he still seems more like an outsider to the events happening in front of him.  But that is about the only downside I found in the show.

the very effective kids in the cast
Johnny Rabe is Ralphie and he has the perfect blend of fear, determination and desperation that any child has when they want something but see many obstacles in the way of achieving their goal.  Rabe has a very good singing voice and dances nicely too.  He is the epitome of the nice kid who isn't the most famous or the smartest and has his share of bullies, and so represents just about every one of us at that age.  Rabe has no problem balancing all of his responsibilities in portraying this "every man" kid.  He also has a wonderful relationship not only with John Bolton and Erin Dilly who play his parents but also with Zac Ballard who plays his younger brother Randy. 

Erin Dilly, Zac Ballard, John Bolton and Johnny Rabe
Bolton is also giving a very good performance as the father who desperately wants to win a newspaper contest, even though he has no idea what the "major award" is that he'd win.  It is a nice parallel to Ralphie's quest for the B.B. gun.  And when Bolton wins the prize, the aforementioned "leg lamp" it turns into a very inventive dance number.   Dilly as Ralphie's mom has the frantic 1940's housewife and mother down perfectly.  She manages to keep everything moving along swimmingly even when confronted with a child who gets into fights, a turkey eaten by the dogs next door and that hideous leg lamp.  She also delivers a touching ballad "Just Like That" about how quickly childhood passes.  There is not much to say about Ballard except that he is hilarious and just about steals every scene he is in.  I credit director Rando at having all four of these actors come across so naturally as a family and at how effective Rabe and Ballard are in their roles.

Caroline O'Connor
Rando and Carlyle also exhibit an excellent use of the children in the ensemble, especially during the "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out" tap number in the second act that is led by a terrific Caroline O'Connor and featuring tiny nine year old Luke Spring in a winning solo tap.  That number is just one of the very inventive fantasy sequences, similar to what was done for the movie, that also includes the hilarious "Ralphie to the Rescue" Wild West sequence.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score has a nice blend of big splashy numbers, humorous tunes and touching ballads.  Pasek and Paul also composed the score for Dog Fight that ran Off Broadway this last Summer and I expect many more shows from them in the future.  The creative elements for the show are top notch as well with a lovely house set and other colorful set pieces by Walt Spangler, colorful period costumes by Elizabeth Hope Clancy and effective lighting by Howell Binkley.  Because the music and choreography are exceptionally special I think it is important to note that James Gray is the Associate Choreography, Larry Blank provided the orchestrations and Glen Kelly the dance arrangements.

A Christmas Story, the Musical is running on Broadway through December 30th.  I don't need to triple dog dare you to go, just go and have a wonderful time with this crazy and touching family.

Official Show Site

Highlights from the World Premiere production:

Interviews with the cast and creative team:

Press rehearsal footage and interviews with the Original Broadway Cast:

trailer for the movie:

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