If you are looking for heart, soul and that seemingly illusive Christmas Spirit, look no farther than A Christmas Story, the Musical. This show, whose strengths include family values, a terrific score and a book that not only has humor, but warmth, making even the most unsentimental wish for a family musical come alive, in astounding ways. I love this score so much, that the overture is my cell phone ring, because it cheers me up as each call comes in.
The story is simple. Jean Shepherd is reliving those moments you tuck away like a gift and remember all your life. Flash-back to a small-town in Indiana, circa 1940’s. 9-year-old Ralphie (Johnny Rabe) wants one thing and one thing only for Christmas: a Red Ryder carbine-action BB gun. He dreams about it, fantasizes about it and comes up with a variety of ways to make his parents see his need. His Old Man (John Bolton) is victimized by his next-door neighbor’s dogs, as everything he owns falls apart and as he’s left to deal with it, cursing up a storm. All he wants is respect and to be thought of as smart. When he wins a leg lamp in a contest, his wife (Erin Dilly) is mortified. Her job is to keep the family together and care, which she does in spades. His little brother Randy (Zac Ballard) can only eat when he is pretending to be a piggy. In Ralphie’s world, his teacher Miss Shields (Caroline O’Connor) has the power to make his dreams succeed or fail. The kids of the town are bullied as they long for Christmas to arrive.
As the narrator, Jean Shepherd (Dan Lauria), offers insight into his younger self with ease and wisdom. Johnny Rabe as Ralphie, is adorable playing every boy and girl with a childhood wish. His vocals are not easy, yet he makes them seem effortless. One of the main standouts here is John Bolton as the Old Man, reminiscent of a young Dick Van Dyke or Ray Bolger. Bolton is that old-fashioned song and dance man who seems to have been lost on Broadway. His number, “A Major Award,” is a joy to behold. Erin Dilly as the mother, has some of the most touching songs in the whole show and brings that thing to life, that every child wants…unconditional love. Caroline O’Connor and the tap dancing scene-stealer, Luke Spring, shine in “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.“
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who brought us the impressive Dogfight over the summer, have brought a score to the stage that I haven’t stopped singing since I first heard it. This music is infectious, joyous with that old fashioned flair that made me love musicals in the first place. Kudos must go to orchestrator Larry Blank and dance arranger Glen Kelly for the rousing show-stopping numbers that fill A Christmas Story with glee.
Now I have to admit I wasn’t a big fan of the movie, but Joseph Robinette’s book is funny, poignant and loving. Director John Rando keeps this show on its toes and I have seen it twice now (once in previews) and it still manages to bring me to tears like no other show I’ve seen. This family hears, listens and connects, and so does the show. Choreographer Warren Carlyle brings Busby Berkley, Bugsy Malone, tap-dancing, can-can’s and spirit to the stage.
If you do not like this show, it is because you have turned into Scrooge and cannot see that these are the values that made families great and keep them together, something that we have lost in this country. These were the days when mothers stayed home not because they had to, but because they wanted to. This is an era gone by, or maybe your heart is just two sizes to small.
Of all the holiday shows offered, this is the ONLY one I recommend, and that includes Annie. Be it Christmas, Valentine’s Day or Easter, this is not just a holiday show, but an everyday feel-good show that makes you remember the joys of the season.
A Christmas Story, the Musical. Lunt-Fontanne Theater, 205 West 46th St, Until Dec. 30th. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.
Also with: Tia Altinay, John Babbo, Charissa Bertels, Grace Capeless, Zoe Considine, Andrew Cristi, Mathew deGuzman, Thay Floyd, George Franklin, Nick Gaswirth, Mark Ledbetter, Jose Luaces, Jack Mastrianni, Mara Newbery, Lindsay O’Neil, Sarah Min-Kyung Park, J.D. Rodriguez, Analise Scarpaci, Lara Seibert, Jeremy Shinder, Luke Spring, Beatrice Tulchin, Kirsten Wyatt.