Fans of “A Christmas Story” can breathe easy: The charming musical that opened last night on Broadway, after touring the Midwest last year, succeeds both as an adaptation and on its own terms.
A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL Broadway Reviews
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Every year at this time Broadway producers are seized with the urge to pick parents’ pockets with splashy holiday fare aimed at young audiences. “A Christmas Story,” based on the popular 1983 movie adapted from the writings of the radio personality Jean Shepherd, wins points for being less glitzy and more soft-spoken than the garish, overbearing musical versions of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Elf.”…I found the heavy doses of voice-over in the rather clunky movie to be obtrusive and irritating. Happily, the stage version lightens up a little on the cute, smart-alecky asides…making room for the music and allowing the story mostly to speak for itself… “A Christmas Story” features a sizable group of young performers that makes the small band of orphans in “Annie” look positively skimpy...You’re welcome to your Red Ryder carbine action BB gun, Ralphie. What I want for Christmas is a pair of tap shoes.
We've all seen the scene in "A Christmas Story" when the kid gets his tongue stuck on a frozen flagpole. Now on Broadway is that very same scene – plus the kid actually singing through it, or at least trying to sing. "Sthlun luv a...," he mumbles at the end. It's just one great touch in a musical that dares to mess with one of the most popular Christmas-time movies of all time and yet manages to not only do the film justice, but top it. The show...is a charming triumph of imagination that director John Rando has infused with utter joy. It's also a snappy piece of mature songwriting from a pair of guys barely as old as the original 1983 film...Purists may be upset to miss some film elements – such as Ralphie's decoder ring – but few will walk away thinking "A Christmas Story" has been dishonored, itself a little Christmas miracle.
A cut above the pack, it’s cute, corny, wholesome and sentimental – all basic requirements for family-friendly seasonal stage entertainment. But it also packs ample heart into its wistful glance back to a time when rewards were simpler, communities were closer-knit, and both parental and filial roles were less polluted by the infinite distractions and anxieties of contemporary life. In short, a time when happiness was just a Christmas gift away…Sturdily adapted by Joseph Robinette, it features a peppy, period-flavored score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. With their catchy lyrics and robust melodies, the songs strengthen the characters and situations, dropped in at just the right time to enhance and propel the story…This is an ensemble show rather than a vehicle for star turns, but Lauria’s warmly authoritative presence provides a binding element, and Rabe gives Ralphie irrepressible spirit. Bolton deserves special mention, making Ralphie’s dad a gangly human cartoon, both gruff and affectionate.
Broadway has recently seen such a steady stream of family musicals devised to rake in Thanksgiving-to-New Year's dollars. "A Christmas Story," as its well-known title indicates, is yet another such specimen, but one that distinguishes itself. Based on a memoir by humorist Jean Shepherd and its revered 1983 film adaptation, this tuner boasts a heartwarming but wise story, an impressive score by Broadway newcomers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, canny staging and a series of laugh-out-loud production numbers. While "Christmas Story" is a natural for kids, there's more than enough here for grown-ups of all ages.
the stage adaptation plays like a heart-tugging, best-of version of the movie, with a saccharine score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and a book by Joseph Robinette that desperately panders for laughs...The musicals pleasures are far and wide: Dan Lauria is steady as an older version of Ralphie, who narrates the story. Johnny Rabe, who played Ralphie at my performance, did a nice job of wrangling the curmudgeonly, hopeful nature of his character. Zac Ballard, as younger brother Randy, is a delight. Director John Rando borrows film techniques like freeze-frame and simulated slow motion to great effect. The show feels too long, particularly in the first act...And of course, the whole production is super-duper schmaltzy. But it's Christmas. On Broadway. In the winter wonderland of New York City. And a pink bunny suit is involved. For the most part, A Christmas Story: The Musical isexactly what you expect. B+
But would A Christmas Story: The Musical (* * * out of four) live up to the memories and expectations of those who had loved the movie -- and fans of Jean Shepherd, the writer and radio personality whose semi-autobiographical accounts of small-town life inspired it? The answer, based on audience reaction at a recent preview at Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, where the musical opened Monday, is a resounding yes.
This is called "A Christmas Story," not "The Christmas Story," so, parents, please take note. The musical based on the popular 1983 movie is neither candy-cane sweet nor sacred. In fact, not much is sacred in this droll, imaginative, definitely and a bit defiantly off-center tale of a 9-year-old bespectacled kid named Ralphie and a flawed but loving family in Indiana in the 1940s. That is, 9-year-olds (and up) and their flawed, loving parents are probably the target audience for the newest addition to the holiday offerings, wickedly directed by John Rando ("Urinetown") with a clever and enjoyable score by newcomers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul ("Dogfight"). The humor is not so much politically incorrect as, well, politically retro and a little dark...I could live without the awful joke about Chinese accents, the blue joke about the bowling ball, the playground line "when you act like a fruit, you get crushed like a grape." Even if kids liked to talk like that, Broadway should not endorse it.
There are also bright spots during the show’s 2 hours, including the bouncy “Ralphie to the Rescue!” The twangy tune finds Ralphie fantasizing about being a hero with his rifle. The best scene comes with the jazzy “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.” Thanks to Warren Carlyle’s delicious tap-happy choreography and a gleaming gang of young hoofers, it’s great big fun. So much so you wish for more of the same. But not everyone’s as lucky as Ralphie — you can’t always get what you want.
I have an unusual Christmas wish this year: I want fewer Christmas musicals going forward...In “A Christmas Story,” which is extremely faithful to the film, 9-year-old bespectacled Ralphie (played by the big-voiced Johnny Rabe) longs to receive a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas in 1940s Indiana The central problem in mounting a stage version lies with depicting the adult Ralphie, who serves as the film’s off-screen narrator. Here, Dan Lauria wanders aimlessly around the stage and speaks directly to the audience, rather like a Ghost of Christmas Future. His presence makes the storytelling clunky and disjointed. That said, the real perk of “A Christmas Story” lies in its highly melodic, original score by the up-and-coming team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Come to think of it, here’s a better Christmas wish: more new musicals by Pasek and Paul.
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