×

A Christmas Story

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.

With:
Jean Shepherd - Dan Lauria
Ralphie - Johnny Rabe
Ralphie (alternate) - Joe West
Mother - Erin Dilly
Randy - Zac Ballard
The Old Man - John Bolton
The Bumpus Hounds - Pete and Lily
Miss Shields - Caroline O'Connor
Santa Claus - Eddie Korbich

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.)

Popular on Variety

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.

A Christmas Story

Lunt-Fontanne;1,415 seats; $159 top

Production: A Gerald Goehring, Roy Miller, Michael F. Mitri, Pat Flicker Addiss, Peter Billingsley, Timothy Laczynski, Mariano Tolentino, Louise H. Beard, Michael Filerman, Scott Hart, Alison Eckert, Bob Bartner, Michael Jenkins, Angela Milonas, Bradford W. Smith presentation of a musical in two acts with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, book by Joseph Robinette (based on a memoir by Jean Shepherd and the 1983 motion picture). Directed by John Rando; choreography, Warren Carlyle; music director, Ian Eisendrath.

Creative: Sets, Walt Spangler; costumes, Elizabeth Hope Clancy; lights, Howell Binkley; sound, Ken Travis; orchestrations, Larry Blank; dance arrangements, Glen Kelly; production stage manager, Peter Wolf. Opened Nov. 19, 2012, reviewed Nov. 16. Runs through Dec. 30. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast: Jean Shepherd - Dan Lauria
Ralphie - Johnny Rabe
Ralphie (alternate) - Joe West
Mother - Erin Dilly
Randy - Zac Ballard
The Old Man - John Bolton
The Bumpus Hounds - Pete and Lily
Miss Shields - Caroline O'Connor
Santa Claus - Eddie KorbichWith: 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. Musical numbers: "It All Comes Down to Christmas," "Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun," "The Genius on Cleveland Street," "When You're a Wimp," "Ralphie to the Rescue!" "What a Mother Does," "A Major Award," "Parker Family Singalong," "Sticky Situation," "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out," "Just Like That," "At Higbee's," "Up on Santa's Lap," "Before the Old Man Comes Home," "Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana," "A Christmas Story"

More Legit

  • Zoe Caldwell Dead

    Zoe Caldwell, Four-Time Tony Winner, Dies at 86

    Zoe Caldwell, an Australian actress with a talent for illuminating the human side of imposing icons such as Cleopatra and Maria Callas in a career that netted her four Tony Awards, died on Sunday due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to her son Charlie Whitehead. She was 86. Caldwell occasionally appeared in television and [...]

  • Cambodian Rock Band interview

    Listen: How 'Cambodian Rock Band' Became One of the Most Produced Plays in the U.S.

    One of the hottest trends in American theater this season is Cambodian surf rock from the 1970s — and that’s thanks to “Cambodian Rock Band.” Listen to this week’s Stagecraft podcast below: Playwright Lauren Yee’s genre-bending stage show, part family drama and part rock concert, has become one of the most-produced plays in the U.S. this season. [...]

  • Revenge Song

    Vampire Cowboys' 'Revenge Song': L.A. Theater Review

    There’s highbrow, there’s lowbrow, and then there’s however you might classify Vampire Cowboys, the anarchic New York City theater company whose diverse productions . It’s radical, “good taste”-flouting counter-programming for the vast swaths of the population left unserved by high-dollar, stiff-collar theater options. Vampire Cowboys’ raucous new show, “Revenge Song,” is unlike anything else that’s [...]

  • THE VISIT review

    'The Visit': Theater Review

    Director Jeremy Herrin’s extraordinary take on Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 play “The Visit” is less of a production and more of a show. A wordy one, to be sure, which is no surprise since it’s an adaptation by Tony Kushner that, including two intermissions, comes in at three-and-a-half hours. It’s never going to be described as [...]

  • Freestyle Love Supreme review

    'We Are Freestyle Love Supreme': Film Review

    For any Lin-Manuel Miranda fans whose hearts sank almost as quickly as they rose upon hearing that, yes, there’s a “Hamilton” movie, and no, it won’t be out for another 20 months, succor may be on the way in the form of a probably faster-arriving movie that features Miranda in almost as big a role, [...]

  • Unmasked review

    Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Unmasked': Theater Review

    It takes guts to admit you were wrong — especially when you have been so right, so often. Take composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose successes with  “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and “School of Rock” have made him a musical-theater uber-Lord. Early on during [...]

  • Aaron Loeb

    James Ward Byrkit to Direct Aaron Loeb's Off-Broadway Adaptation 'Ideation' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Aaron Loeb’s darkly comic one-act play “Ideation” will be turned into a movie, Variety has learned. The Off-Broadway production centers on a group of corporate consultants who work together on a mysterious and ethically ambiguous project for the government. It premiered in 2016, and went on to become a New York Times Critic’s Pick during [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content