A Christmas Story, The Musical
For the record, let it be known that I am officially Christmas crazy. My hall closet is stocked with boxes upon boxes of decorations, and I have spent every evening for the past two weeks watching holiday movies.
One film favorite that is a Christmas Day holdout is the classic flick about Ralphie Parker, the circa-1940s Indiana youth whose sole Christmas wish is a shiny new BB Gun. This year, the Lunt-Fontanne Theater allows some cheating as they open the curtain on "A Christmas Story, The Musical," bringing this charming holiday classic to life via song. And if a recent night’s audience was any indication, the show has reached its target audience: children and gays.
Showbiz wunderkind Johnny Rabe plays Ralphie, (a role originated by Peter Billingsley) with equal parts wimpy, bespectacled Midwestern youth and cocky theater kid. While Ralphie is a hard role to fill, Rabe is up to the job. Character actor Dan Lauria does a nice job as the narrator, a grown-up Ralphie.
Ralphie has less than a month to persuade his skeptical parents that the ideal Christmas present for him is a "genuine Red Ryder carbine-action BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time."
Ralphie goes about this goal in myriad ways: by writing a theme paper for his teacher, Miss Shields (Caroline O’Connor) that he is sure will thrill; by slipping ads for the gun in his mother’s (Erin Dilly) magazines and mail; by pleading for the toy; and the coup de grace: by visiting Santa.
Unfortunately, in all cases, the answer is the same: "You’ll shoot your eye out." Adding insult to injury, Ralphie thwarts his own goal at every turn, letting fly the F word in front of his father (John Bolton); standing idly by while his friend Schwartz (J.D. Rodriguez) accepts a dare from Flick (Jeremy Shinder) to stick his tongue to the flag-pole; and beating to a pulp the local bully, Scut Farkus (Jack Mastrianni) and his toady, Grover Dill (John Babbo).
In the end, after the Bumpus hounds demolish the Parker’s Christmas turkey and Aunt Clara sends over the hideous pink bunny pajamas Ralphie is forced to wear, he gets his treasured gun, at which point he promptly shoots his eye out. Well, not quite, but close enough for some dramatic tension.
One of the problems in making a classic film into a staged musical is that everyone already knows what’s going to happen. My guest and I were among the many audience members who held their breath, waiting to see how memorable moments -- like the scene with the leg lamp, or little brother Randy not being able to put his arms down in his snowsuit -- would be presented on stage. But this anticipation hardly detracts from the enjoyment.
The songs are, generally speaking, perfectly passable and equally forgettable. The tune "It All Comes Down to Christmas" suits almost every character that sings it, and the tune "Ralphie to the Rescue" is revived in countless fantasy-inspired scenes that find the protagonist battling bad guys and bank robbers, saving showgirls from drunken brutes and prowling around a dark speakeasy.
To director John Rando’s credit, he doles out time in the spotlight very democratically, with every character having a chance to belt out his or her heartfelt emotions via song, from Mom to Dad to Ralphie and his fellow wimps to the schoolteacher. Schwartz even gets to chime in, tongue still affixed to the flag pole.
Tap-dancing prodigy Luke Spring charms his way into everyone’s heart. This pint-sized showman is truly remarkable, with charming stage presence and dance chops that rivaled that of any other cast member, including O’Connor, with whom he was paired.
The set design by Walt Spangler of a cutaway interior of the Parker family home provides the cozy setting for many scenes. Ingenuity was also on display by signaling the interior of a department store and Chinese restaurant via a store window with a reversed neon sign, as seen from outdoors. It is low-tech theater with a big payout.
For the scenes set in the Parker’s car, Spangler indicated movement by having stagehands roll cut-out pine trees on wheels across the stage, while hidden behind them. And the famous Bumpus hounds are actually played by hounds Pete and Lily.
Kudos also go to Howell Binkley for his amazing lighting, which brings scenes alive through the use of colored gels and projected images.
Although it may be seasonal and for a limited run, this show is staged professionally and with regard to the cherished memories created by the classic film. It is perfect for anyone who is as crazy for Christmas as I am.