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 that opened Monday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre 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.
The duo, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are making their Broadway debuts with a score that is funny, nostalgic, warm and tender. Among the best tunes are "Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana," "Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun" and "Ralphie to the Rescue."
The book by Joseph Robinette honors the film – yes, the bright pink bunny suit and Chinese restaurant are both still there, as are most of the iconic moments – while adding zaniness.
That stocking-clad plastic lamp leg that makes dad so happy? In the musical, multiple lamps come out onstage to, naturally, create a kick-line. The Bumpus hounds? Here, they're real, two dogs bounding across the stage, adding a jolt of delight. The flagpole scene seems better when everyone is singing "Sticky Situation."
For those of you who have managed to avoid this particular Christmas staple, the film and musical are based on writer and radio-TV personality Jean Shepherd's semiautobiographical story of 9-year-old Ralphie Parker's desperate attempt to land an air rifle as a Christmas gift, despite warnings from everyone that he'll shoot his eye out.
The cast is led by a multi-talented Johnny Rabe as Ralphie – some performances star Joe West in the role – and a cast of skillful children, who can give the kids over at "Annie" a run for their money. One from the ensemble – 9-year-old tap dancing prodigy Luke Spring – brings the house down during a fantasy scene in a children's speakeasy.
Warren Carlyle's inspired choreography manages to cut the sweetness with funny tart moments, such as the use of slow motion as a nod to the musical's roots, or pyramids of people slightly off-kilter or manic elves at a department store.
Dan Lauria, who played the dad in "The Wonder Years," stars as the narrator and doesn't have to work too hard, yet he brings a throwback warmth and sad shake of his head that adds instant nostalgia.
An elastic John Bolton gets hysterically obsessed and flustered as the Old Man. Erin Dilly plays the mother with lovely grace and does a beautiful job with the touching song "What a Mother Does." Caroline O'Connor is comedic gold as the daffy school teacher.
At a recent preview, the audience seemed well-versed with the film and anticipatory laughs swirled even before well-known scenes had begun, but rarely did the new version fall flat. 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.
Another season of tinsel and holly, another holiday movie warmed over as a Broadway musical that tries but fails to summon the quirky magic of the big-screen original.
This year, it’s “A Christmas Story,” drawn from the 1983 film of the same name and Jean Shepherd’s anthology “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” which inspired his screenplay.
You probably know the “Story.” The movie runs in near-perpetuity on TV this time of year.
It’s 1940 in small-town Indiana. Nine-year-old Ralphie (talented young Johnny Rabe, alternating with Joe West) is obsessed with getting a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, though everyone pooh-poohs him by saying, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
Undaunted, Ralphie counts down to the Big Day dreaming about the rifle, while his good-natured Mother (Erin Dilly), dotty but devoted Old Man (John Bolton) and kid brother, Randy (Zac Ballard), do their own thing.
Joseph Robinette’s adaptation frames the action as a memory. The adult Jean Shepherd (Dan Lauria, of “Wonder Years”) narrates and reflects on a special holiday from the past. Sure, it was about getting presents, but what made it really special was the presence of family.
It’s a sweet message that hits the right notes of nostalgia. Goofy goings-on keep the film, and the musical — co-produced by the movie Ralphie, Peter Billingsley — from turning maudlin.
Robinette wisely preserves these moments, including the triple-dog dare to lick a freezing flagpole, the mortifying pink bunny peejays and the bully’s comeuppance. They’re all on stage in this good-looking production.
Retracing the narrative is one thing. Making it sing in memorable ways is another. Songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo behind “Dogfight,” are all serviceable, but mostly exit the brain faster than Santa up a chimney.
The song “A Major Award,” inspired by a nutty leg-shaped lamp, stays memorable for the wrong reason. In a surprising miscalculation by director John Rando (“Urinetown”), he beats (make that, kicks) this simple sight gag to death in a lengthy production number.
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.
Writing a musical is hard. Writing a musical based on a movie with a passionate cult following is harder yet. A lot of your customers are going to feel personally betrayed by any change to what’s playing in their head.
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.
Joseph Robinette’s book faithfully transposes to the stage the adventures of 9-year-old Ralphie (Johnny Rabe), who dreams of landing a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun for Christmas. It probably helped that Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie in the 1983 flick, is one of the show’s producers.
But even those who’ve somehow managed to miss the film are likely to enjoy the show. This is a sweet, funny holiday outing, the rare family entertainment that doesn’t feel like a soulless, dumbed-down corporate product. Even the obligatory merchandise — leg lamps and all — looks good.
Like its inspiration, the nostalgic “A Christmas Story, the Musical” looks back on life in an idealized 1940 Indiana town with equal parts warmth and rambunctious humor.
As in the movie, which he narrated in voice-over, our guide is Jean Shepherd, the late writer and radio personality whose book inspired the script. Here he’s played by Dan Lauria, whose stint on “The Wonder Years” made him one of the most popular TV dads ever.
As Shepherd, Lauria provides a dry running commentary, helping link the disparate vignettes that make up the plot.
And except for the Ovaltine gag, they all turn up: Ralphie lets out a swear while helping the Old Man (John Bolton) change a tire, Mother (Erin Dilly) goads little Randy (Zac Ballard) into eating his meatloaf like the Little Piggies, Flick (Jeremy Shinder) gets his tongue stuck on a frozen flagpole, and the Bumpus hounds chase Ralphie’s dad across the stage, before demolishing his Christmas turkey.
The new material is perfectly incorporated into the familiar frame, most notably Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s zippy score, which is old-fashioned in the best way possible. You may have “Ralphie to the Rescue!” stuck in your head for a while.
Choreographer Warren Carlyle and director John Rando keep things moving at a brisk pace. They’ve surrounded the cast’s many children with excellent adult pros, and it’s a treat to see generations mingle in numbers like “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.”
In that fantasy sequence — its speakeasy setting recalling the 1970s musical “Bugsy Malone” — veteran belter Caroline O’Connor, as the teacher Miss Shields, and the tiny tap whiz Luke Spring go all out.
Yes, you can hit a bull’s-eye with a BB gun.
You’d have to have a Grinch-size heart not to feel a smile spreading across your face when Luke Spring, a 9-year-old dynamo with feathers for feet, starts tapping his little heart out in “A Christmas Story,” a new musical that opened on Monday night at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. Clad in a sleek black suit, his high-wattage grin beaming into the auditorium, this energetic little charmer raises such a merry clatter with his nimble dancing that it all but brings down the house.
I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a soft touch when it comes to sentimental stories set during the Christmas season. (I’ve never even seen “It’s a Wonderful Life.”) But tap-dancing kids? Forget it. Out go the critical faculties, to be replaced by the kind of mindless adoration that the young hero of this musical brings to his obsessive worship of a toy BB gun.
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.” Set in Indiana in 1940, it glows with sepia-toned nostalgia for a Simpler Time, back when a boy’s ardent desire for a BB gun inspired only a time-tested maternal riposte (“You’ll shoot your eye out”) and not dark fears that Junior might grow up to take out half his high school class with an automatic weapon.
Shepherd narrates the stage version in the likable person of Dan Lauria, former star of the similarly nostalgic television series “The Wonder Years.” 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 (“My fevered brain seethed with the effort to come up with an infinitely subtle device to implant the air rifle indelibly into my parents’ consciousness without their being aware of it”), making room for the music and allowing the story mostly to speak for itself.
Not that there’s much story to speak of. The show, with a book by Joseph Robinette and a score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (the composer-lyricists of “Dogfight”), sticks to the episodic narrative from the movie.
Directed efficiently by John Rando, it’s a collage of childhood snapshots taken from the tingly, exciting month before Christmas, when dreams of a big haul from Santa Claus form in little minds. The centrality of the holiday to the childhood Weltanschauung is neatly encapsulated in the synthetic holiday jingle concocted for the musical by Mr. Pasek and Mr. Paul, which is remorselessly reprised: “It All Comes Down to Christmas.”
Like all sensible boys his age, the bespectacled Everykid Ralphie, played with amiable spunk by Johnny Rabe, lives in fear of sensible gifts like sweaters, and has fixated on the Red Ryder carbine action BB gun as the only acquisition that will make his 9-year-old life worth living. His ingenious, seemingly unavailing attempts to persuade his parents to allow him this cherished gift form the slender backbone of the musical.
As fans of the movie will no doubt remember, Ralphie seems to have inherited his single-mindedness from his father, whose fondness for blue language is matched only by his fervent wish to win a crossword puzzle contest. The Old Man (a gangly, goofy John Bolton), as he is referred to in the show’s Middle America-speak of yore, finds his heroic efforts rewarded when a telegram arrives announcing that a prize is on its way. It turns out to be a lamp in the shape of a shapely woman’s leg swathed in a fishnet stocking, and the Old Man cherishes it as if it were his very own Oscar.
Why such an unsightly item — rightly referred to by Mother (Erin Dilly) as the ugliest thing in Christendom — should have been manufactured and presumably sold in the Midwest in 1940 is an incalculable mystery, but never mind. The lamp played a supporting role in the movie, and gets its own splashy number here, with Mr. Bolton leading a chorus of dancers all kicking their own legs, and their plastic lamp legs, sky-high. (At the amply stocked gift shop at the back of the theater, you too can purchase this novelty item in assorted sizes. The largest version is a mere $250.)
Mr. Pasek and Mr. Paul have provided a likable, perky score that duly translates all of the major episodes in the story into appropriate musical numbers: Ralphie and his brother, Randy (Zac Ballard), enduring the humiliations of the local bully; the licking-the-cold-flagpole scandal; the visit to a cranky department store Santa Claus. The finest song is probably “Just Like That,” a lament for the quick passing of the childhood years performed with tender care by Ms. Dilly.
But the sequences that make the children in the audience perk up and stop fidgeting are naturally the big dance numbers led by the smaller fry in the cast. “A Christmas Story” features a sizable group of young performers that makes the small band of orphans in “Annie” look positively skimpy. They are wonderfully showcased in a couple of fantasy numbers that are the highlights of each act, and are choreographed with invention by Warren Carlyle.
In “Ralphie to the Rescue!” the stage becomes a Wild West town where Ralphie, with his trusty Red Ryder in hand, saves various damsels in distress in the guise of a sharpshooting cowboy. And the tap extravaganza in which Mr. Spring so impressively acquits himself comes in the course of a loopy number that finds the kids in the cast portraying dapper gents and their dolls cavorting in a speakeasy in the 1930s. (It’s very “Bugsy Malone,” for those who remember that peculiar movie.)
Why Ralphie’s imagination should be fired by such imagery is not made clear, but I was too dazzled by that stage full of children making a joyful, metallic noise to care.
You’re welcome to your Red Ryder carbine action BB gun, Ralphie. What I want for Christmas is a pair of tap shoes.
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. This is childhood seen from the snails-and-puppy-dog-tail perspective, narrated as a memory play by the late radio personality Jean Shepherd (imbued with a comforting presence and a twinkly bizarre streak by Dan Lauria).
Ralphie, played with no-nonsense charm by Johnny Rabe, wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, a fixation that, despite the grown-ups' constant warning that "you'll shoot your eye out," can certainly be seen as a glorification of guns. His tightly wound father (an edgy-smart John Bolton) swears a lot, even if it does come out gobbledygook. Mother (a radiantly down-to-earth Erin Dilly) knows more about everything than she is supposed to say.
But how adorable, really, when Mother stuffs Ralphie's little brother (Zac Ballard) into a snowsuit that keeps toppling over, and how touching that her underachieving husband enters mail contests to prove himself, even when the "major award" is a lamp shaped like a girlie leg. Besides, the neighbor's two bloodhounds are perfect.
The set by Walt Spangler includes an enchanting breakaway gingerbread house, surrounded by curvy white frames, though the family Olds would never have the top down in the winter. Warren Carlyle's choreography keeps it childlike for the kids, except for the mob fantasy in the speak-easy, where tiny Luke Spring proves himself a tap wizard.
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.
In 1983, few could have guessed that the tale of a young Indiana boy with visions of BB guns dancing in his head would become a perennial holiday film favorite. Since it has, though, it wasn't much of a stretch to envision a musical-theater adaptation, particularly as flicks ranging from White Christmas to Elf have made their way to the stage.
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.
At least some of this Christmas Story's appeal can be attributed to familiarity and nostalgia. Librettist Joseph Robinette and director John Rando have infused the show with a warm but wry Americana that transcends generational differences, and some of the biggest laughs and heartiest applause at the aforementioned performance were generated by direct references to the film: the recreation of a scene where a youngster gets his tongue stuck to a frozen flagpole, for instance, or the one in which a waiter at a Chinese restaurant sings Deck the Halls in heavily accented English.
But the musical's creative team -- which also includes rising composer/lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, whose potent adaptation of a very different film, Dogfight, earned kudos off-Broadway -- brings a combination of wacky humor and folksy charm that succeeds on its own terms, while staying true to Shepherd's sensibility. The original author -- whose voice was heard in the film, as the grownup version of Ralphie, the bespectacled, BB gun-besotted protagonist -- is a principal character onstage; played by a drily jocund Dan Lauria, Shepherd narrates and provides droll commentary on the proceedings.
As the nine-year-old Ralphie, Johnny Rabe is equal parts impish and hapless. plucky and sweet; Zac Ballard is similarly endearing as the kid brother who watches Ralphie get into all kinds of harmless trouble while scheming to procure the Christmas present of his dreams. The young actors are joined by a collection of spry, bright-eyed peers who appear as their schoolmates in production numbers choreographed with playful wit by Warren Carlyle.
The other adult characters, while hardly imaginative, are also well-played. John Bolton grumbles and goofs gamely as Ralphie's gruff but soft-hearted dad, while Erin Dilly lends an easy grace to the part of his mom, the sort of obedient but knowing housewife who was a staple of TV sitcoms of a certain era. Caroline O'Connor gets to be sassier as Ralphie's teacher, who leads one of the show's most effervescent numbers, You'll Shoot Your Eye Out.
Even if you don't recognize that title as from the movie, chances are you'll find this Christmas Story instantly accessible, and consistently appealing.
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 now-familiar tale tells of 11-year-old Ralphie (Johnny Rabe) in small-town Indiana, circa 1940, and his Christmas quest for a Red Ryder carbine-action BB gun. His absent-minded Old Man (John Bolton) and hardworking homemaker of a mother (Erin Dilly) have other ideas, but hey -- this is a Christmas story. The episodic piece is narrated by storyteller Jean Shepherd (Dan Lauria) and carried by 12-year-old Rabe, whose Ralphie is adorable and wise, and who delivers some mighty loquacious lyrics with ease. (He does six perfs a week, with alternate Joe West playing two.)
Bolton, a little-known character actor, is also very good; tall and thin, he prances around like a marionette whose strings are prone to snap, all the while bringing to mind a combination of Dick Van Dyke and Stan Laurel. Zac Ballard is cute as Ralphie's younger brother, Randy, and Aussie actress Caroline O'Connor has fun as schoolteacher Miss Shields and as the comically distressed heroine in Ralphie's daydreams.
Most impressive of all perhaps are the young songwriters, whose Off Broadway "Dogfight" earned mixed local notices over the summer. From their bravura 12-minute opening sequence -- which artfully sets the scene, introduces the characters and sets the plot in motion -- through the gentle Christmas Day anthem that wraps up the proceedings (and opens the tear ducts), they are consistently on target.
While other writers might have penned a cliche about waiting up for Santa Claus, Pasek and Paul have the kids picture him "Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana," a poetic but perfect image. Song after song soars, helped along by strong contributions from orchestrator Larry Blank and dance arranger Glen Kelly.
Joseph Robinette's book is funny, direct and to the point, even if the plot, like the screenplay, feels at times like a string of unrelated anecdotes. Helmer John Rando ("Urinetown") does his best recent work with jokes and gags galore; in a "windy" scene, he thinks nothing of having a kid or two go blowing across the stage. Rando also gives us the finest recurring stage-animal gag in memory, courtesy of a pair of forlorn hounds handled by Broadway's longtime animal trainer, Bill Berloni.
Family musicals traditionally have dance numbers for the chorus, and a specialty turn or two for the kids. Choreographer Warren Carlyle typically starts his numbers with the dancers, then adds the kids doing the same steps, building the numbers into demented delights.
Standing out is the littlest boy actor, Luke Spring. In a second-act speakeasy sequence, he's costumed in a gangster's pinstripe suit and turned loose to reveal an astonishing tap-dancing imp. The fortysomething O'Connor, in a moll's red slit dress, is then drafted into a challenge dance with 9-year-old. Both turn out winners.
This holiday confection has not had an easy road along the development trail; since 2009, it's gone through multiple songwriters, directors, choreographers and cast members. In this case, perseverance -- and a willingness by producers to identify problems and make necessary changes -- has paid off in a merry way indeed.