A Christmas Story, the Musical

 

Leaving aside It's A Wonderful Life, I confess that my tolerance for holiday movies is pretty low. Likewise for holiday musicals. But A Christmas Story wore down my defenses. A cut above the pack, it's cute, corny, wholesome and sentimental -- all basic requirements for family-friendly seasonal stage entertainment.

Despite its setting being 1940, the show is a bonanza for '80s nostalgists. It faithfully follows the slender plotline of the popular 1983 MGM movie -- a perennial holiday cable favorite -- resurrecting just about every one of the film's most iconic moments. And as a genial guide through that story, it enlists Dad from The Wonder Years, Dan Lauria.

He takes us back to Hohman, Ind., on Dec. 1, 1940, when 9-year-old Ralphie Parker (Johnny Rabe) has 24 days to persuade his parents to buy him an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Range Model BB gun. The chief obstacle to Ralphie fulfilling his dream is the warning of every adult in town: "You'll shoot your eye out." Benj Pasek and Justin Paul spin this simple act of coveting a toy into a handful of delightful songs. And yes, "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out" is one of them.

The show's fidelity to its source means there's nearly as much anticipatory laughter as response from the audience. But more than being a musicalized copy of the film, this is a gentle paean to a lost era and is in many ways a modest, old-fashioned endeavor. It's less infantile than Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, less artificial than Irving Berlin's White Christmas and less hampered by a personality-driven screen source than Elf. It's also less of a kitschy tourist magnet than Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Unexpectedly, it pulses with genuine feeling.

Venue: Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York (through Dec. 30)
Cast: Dan Lauria, Johnny Rabe
Director: John Rando
Music-lyrics: Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

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