×

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.)

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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

  • Bat Out of Hell review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Bat Out of Hell'

    No one has ever accused Jim Steinman of subtlety. The composer behind Meat Loaf’s 1977 “Bat Out of Hell” (more than 43 million albums sold worldwide) and 1993’s “Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell” (five and six times platinum in the UK and US) has forever trafficked in a boldly theatrical brand of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content