A CHRISTMAS STORY The Musical! is virtually critic proof. You would have to be the Grinch multiplied by Scrooge to find fault with such a smiling piece of musical theatre. The theatrical performance, now playing in New York City through the end of the year, could not possibly be any more endearing.
The elements are all in place…cute children of all shapes and sizes, recently rescued rascally shelter dogs running across the stage, a loving curmudgeon of a Dad, an understanding, intuitive Mom, your standard issue public grammar school setting, snow filled streets, triple dog dares, Santa Claus, elves and Christmas. Now add some joyously enacted song and dance numbers … I mean really!?! How can you lose?! Even the festive theater lobby upon entrance winks at you with a few surprises. ‘
You all know this not so tall tale only too well, most likely because you have personally lived some aspect of this story as well as enjoyed the film. “A Christmas Story” the movie has become classic holiday fare, and is shown 24 hours straight on Christmas Eve and throughout Christmas Day. The premise is timeless… nine year old Ralphie desperately desires a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun for Christmas but his Mother, his teacher and ultimately the big guy himself, Santa, know better.
“You’ll shoot your eye out!” has become part of the America lexicon, as has the “triple dog dare,” so popular is this film. But Ralphie’s scheme for this zenith of Christmas gifts rivals the strategies of a political campaign. And so we follow the daily doings of kids that seem right out of central casting during the Christmas season of 1939 when radio, comic strips, full screen/ all day movies, and dime novel reading were the primary forms of entertainment for children. It’s a time when kids challenged their imaginations and seemed to have an endless reservoir of resourcefulness, daydreams and creativity with which to amuse themselves.
Life was simpler, kinder, easier, nicer….children played hard outdoors, school recess was fraught with funny frolics, and kids completely understood their place in the scheme of things. The clever experiences of a suburban childhood during the weeks before Christmas beautifully shine in this musical like a professionally wrapped Christmas package. This show explodes with sparkling song and dance numbers, belly laughs, and gentle good cheer. It is what it is…a larger then life memoir of childhood, and one child’s special Christmas. We all relate. If only grown up life could remain so sweet.
That being said…LET THE WILD RUMPUS BEGIN! Great fun awaits at the Lunt-Fontanne, try and get there.
The cast is fabulous, Jim Bolton, a delightful grumble puss as the “Old Man” and warm, loving Erin Dilly (recall her from “Julie and Julia?”) as Mother are pitch perfect. “The Old Man’s” solo song and dance number – “A Major Award” – shines brighter then the Rockefeller Christmas tree but the production number that puts the star on the tree is Caroline O’Connor as Miss Shields, Ralphie’s teacher, with all the children in the show in tow.
It is a dance dream sequence number that will have you clamoring for tap lessons, while a five year old tiny tapper in a teeny fedora blows you out of your seat! The children in “A Christmas Story: The Musical!” have more talent in their twinkling toes then the majority of adults have in their entire frames, their spirited performances alone merit the ticket price. The tunefully catchy “Ralphie to the Rescue” dream sequence is as juicy as a Christmas fruitcake! Glorious! Quite admirably performed by Johnny Rabe as Ralphie, this sent me humming out of the theater. Many of these spirited songs actually stay with you upon exit, a rarity in original musical scores these days.
Yes, the compact set centered in the midst of an otherwise empty stage is a bit odd, especially when viewed from the mezzanine section. On a personal note, I found the actual presence of an actor who is not a part of the action (that ultimate TV Dad, Dan Lauria from “The Wonder Years”) wandering on/off stage to editorialize the humor directly to the audience, rather then a voice over narrator (i.e. the radio personality and author of this piece, Jean Shepard, delivered this unseen narration in the film) a tad strange. But I quibble. This is minutia in light of all the happy happenings on stage. Bring your children, this is true family fare.
The innocence of this musical is exactly what’s needed this holiday season in light of the horror we just witnessed in Newtown, Connecticut. There are twenty six additional stars in our orb illuminating the way to better days ahead in the New Year. So very hard at this point to find pleasure this holiday season, but put “A CHRISTMAS STORY The Musical!” on your list of “musts.” If only for a while, the adorable antics of the children on stage will give you reason to smile again.
Silent Night, Holy Night.
Sleep in heavenly peace.
WHAT: “A CHRISTMAS STORY The Musical!” WHERE: Lunt-Fontanne Theater 205 West 46th Street, New York, New York WHEN: Until December 30th, 2012