Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Christmas Story: The Musical (Lunt-Fontanne Theatre)

By Harry Forbes

It may only be running for eight weeks, but there’s nothing slapdash about this excellent musical adaptation of humorist Jean Shepherd’s tale of his Indiana childhood, circa 1940. The 1983 film remains a cult favorite and, though I must confess I never saw it, the rest of the audience seems to have, and they embraced this stage version warmly.

Like the concurrent “Elf,” only the pervasive Yuletide theme stands in the way of the show enjoying a regular run.

With a first-class cast and production team, helmed by the inventive team of director John Rando and choreographer Warren Carlyle, the narrative unfolds most entertainingly.

An engaging Dan Lauria – back to Broadway after his triumph in “Lombardi” -- plays Shepherd, narrating the story from WOR radio studio, and weaving in amongst the actors during the flashback scenes.

Nine-year-old Ralphie (Johnny Rabe) wants nothing more than a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, despite everyone’s admonition that he’ll “shoot his eye out,” and during the seeming eternal days of December leading up to Christmas, all manner of events seem to conspire to keep him from his goal, including a fateful utterance of the f-word, and a prank involving a tongue stuck on a freezing flagpole. Those who know the movie will know these scenes well.

His father, the Old Man (hilariously played by John Bolton), is a mass of alarming mood swings and obsession, as we learn when he wins a rather ghastly leg lamp in a crossword competition. (One of Carlyle’s winning conceits is a dance number with a veritable Rockettes’ line of them!)

West End musical star Caroline O’Connor does well with the schoolteacher Miss Shields, and gets to let her hair down in a sexy fantasy number (entitled – wouldn’t you know? – “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out”), though she’s almost upstaged by pint-sized tapper named Luke Spring.

Erin Dilly makes a lovely, real-seeming mom, and Eddie Korbich is a hoot as a blasé department store Santa. And his big number, “Up on Santa’s Lap” brings out more clever staging from Carlyle.

Not all Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s songs are golden, but most of them are tuneful and great fun (“Ralphie to the Rescue,” “Sticky Situation”), providing musical moments at all the logical moments.

Walt Spangler’s set, Elizabeth Hope Clancy’s costumes, Howell Binkley’s lighting, and Ken Travis’ sound design are all top notch.

(Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St., 877-250-2929 or
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