Before I launch into an unqualified rave of this new musical, I have a two-part confession: Somehow I managed to make it to adulthood without seeing the holiday movie that’s a December constant.
And, though critics are supposed to be open-minded, I admit that I approached Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre with some trepidation figuring that this would pre-sell itself and therefore did not have to be all that good.
It has been known to happen with holiday shows, given the built-in audience of people coming to New York to shop and see the tree. Slick producers think they can put anything on the stage and people will come. Add to that how beloved this movie is, and it was inevitable that a production would happen.
So “A Christmas Story, The Musical!” is a delightful surprise. It is terrific fun, sweet without ever condescending, and mines the time in which its set, 1940s Indiana.
Based on the 1983 movie starring Peter Billingsley, who co-produced the stage version, the show is bound to be a classic.
Dan Lauria (TV’s “The Wonder Years” and “Sullivan & Son,” Broadway’s “Lombardi”) is perfect as the adult Ralphie. The story is based on Jean Shepherd’s autobiographical story about wanting — desperately wanting, the way only a kid can want — a Red Ryder BB Gun.
The adults in his life, beginning with his mother, tell him no, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
Johnny Rabe, playing Ralphie as a child, has a terrific voice. He’s natural on stage and is surrounded by wonderful pros. Erin Daly (Broadway’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” TV’s “Nurse Jackie”) and John Bolton (Broadway’s “Curtains,” TV’s “Boardwalk Empire”) play his parents, who turn in excellent performances.
They have great material to work with, and director John Rando and choreographer Warren Carlyle do a masterful job of blending kids and adults, singing and dancing together.
A couple of numbers are spectacular. “Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun,” set in Higbee’s Department Store, and “Ralphie to the Rescue,” set in the classroom, are legitimate showstoppers.
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s music and lyrics are absolute fun. Sure, most people know the story. It’s December 1940 and all Ralphie can think about is Christmas. He lives in a loving home. His younger brother, Randy, one of those kids who subsists on air and an occasional nibble of food, drives him crazy, but that’s what little brothers do.
His father has a job he doesn’t much like, but he is a great dad, takes care of the home, wrestles the furnace into submission and does so while cursing like a drunken sailor.
(Incidentally, as in the movie, no real curse words are used in the completely family-friendly production.)
His dad enters contests and finally wins something — a huge lamp shaped like a woman’s leg in a fishnet stocking and black high heel. At her thigh is the lampshade. It gives new meaning to kitsch, and not surprisingly the dad adores it while the mom is horrified by it.
This musical has it all: talented kids, dogs, Santa, a sweet story that does not make adults retch, and a beloved movie that has been turned into the perfect Christmas musical.