BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL at Shea's Buffalo Theatre
It's December 1, 1940 and we meet a working class family preparing for Christmas. The young son Ralphie will do anything he can to convince his parents to get him that BB Gun. Told as a flashback with commentary from the now adult voice of Ralphie, played by Chris Carsten, we hear the mind of young Ralphie commenting on his childhood home and school life during the holiday season.
Austin Molinaro was Ralphie on opening night, and he fully engaged the audience with his strong voice, adept dancing and down right adorable aside glances through thick eyeglasses. A bevy of talented kids make up the large children's ensemble, who treat us to great dancing, as well as all of the hilarious scenes one remembers from the movie. When the curtain rises on the school yard's freezing flag pole, the audience is already snickering in anticipation of the boy whose tongue gets stuck to that pole. Director Matt Lenz swiftly moves along the proceedings, while dances by Warren Carlyle are high spirited and allow for a myriad of styles, given the nature of Ralphie's imagination often coming to life on the stage. Complete with two neighborhood blood hounds chasing Ralphie's dad around the stage, the detailed sets helped invoke life during the pre-war period.
Where the musical version mostly succeeds is in it's earnestness and endearingly talented cast. If only a more top notch score was employed. The workman-like music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, now represented on Broadway with their much lauded score of DEAR EVAN HANSEN , is often meandering and overblown. It is most successful in the fantasy production number of "Ralphie to the Rescue!" and in the more poignant quiet numbers for Ralphie's mother, played by Susannah Jones. Ms. Jones often centers the evening will calm motherly love and lovely singing voice
There is a full on production number for Ralphie's old man ( played by Christopher Swan) where the Entire company dances with that infamous lamp in the shape of a high heeled lady's leg with a fringed shade. Choreographed ala Busby Berkeley, this one note joke, while humorous, plods on a little too long. Much more successful is the Speakeasy number "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out," sung by Ralphie's teacher Miss Shields, played by strong voiced Angelica Richie. Think of the film "Bugsy Malone," where the children play adult gangsters, and you see the inspiration for this comical number. Ms. Richie is paired with a super talented tap dancing kid (Lucas Marinetto), who stops the show with his Mobster tap solo in Act 2.
A CHRISTMAS STORY, The Musical , is full of heart but often left me feeling that it would best be billed as a musical for children and their families. Yes, kids and young-at-heart adults can enjoy this frothy and polished holiday offering, but it may have been better served as an extra presentation versus part of a subscription series.
A CHRISTMAS STORY, The Musical plays at Shea's Buffalo Theatre through Sunday December 18, 2016. Contact sheas.org for more information and tickets.