Friday, November 30, 2012

Theater Review: A Christmas Story, the Musical

ERIN DILLY, ZAC BALLARD, JOHN BOLTON and JOHNNY RABE
in A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL. photo credit: (c) 2012 Carol Rosegg
What a Gift! A Holiday Musical That Works
By Lauren Yarger
Every Christmas Broadway tries its best to find a show that will attract the millions of people visiting New York for the holiday. With the exception of the perennial A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden (no longer running) nicely staged Off-Broadway at Madison Square Garden, if flawed in its adaptation some years back, there hasn't been one that really grabbed me beyond being a tolerably nice show to bring the kids to enjoy.

This year we have a return of Elf and Annie just in time for the season, but we also have a unique offering: a musical that warms the heart, offers a wholesome Christmas story and makes us wish it could play all year long instead of just around the holidays. It's  A Christmas Story, the Musical, a lavishly decorated and choreographed send-up of Jean Shepherd's popular film in which 9-year-old Ralphie dreams of getting a BB gun for Christmas.

Dan Lauria. Photo: 2012 Carol Rosegg
It has all of the parts we love from the movie: the leg lamp, the tongue sticking to the flag pole, the little brother swimming in too much snowsuit and the dog eating the turkey. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you don't need to. The musical, with book by Joseph Robinette and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, stands on its own. Colossal, ever-changing sets by Walt Spangler, spot-on choreography by Warren Carlyle and expert direction by John Rando create a delightful, heart-warming world. Dan Lauria (the dad from TV's "The Wonder Years") guides us through his memories of one particular Christmas in 1940, when what he wanted, more than anything else in the world was a a Red Ryder carbine action BB gun.

Ralphie (Johnny Rabe or Joe West at certain performances) tries to drop hints so that his mother (a beautifully voiced Erin Dilly) or his "Old Man" (John Bolton) might stop in the midst of worrying about the broken furnace or trying to get his little brother Randy (Zac Ballard) to eat to notice what Ralphie hopes to find under the tree on Christmas morning. He writes an essay about it hoping his teacher, Miss Shields (Caroline O'Connor) will be so struck by the brilliance of his argument for needing a BB gun, that she will help him overcome what seems to be everyone's objection: "You'll shoot your eye out."

Ralphie's hopes are dashed, however, when everyone's attention shifts to the hideous leg lamp his father wins in a crossword-puzzle-solving contest. Bolton is a hoot as the leg-lamp worshipping man and Carlyle comes up with a Busby Berkeley-inspired kick line number to send it over the top. The balance is just right between extremes like silly elves with a less-than-jolly department store Santa and a heartfelt, loving apology between Ralphie's parents following an argument.

The catchy and memorable songs -- 16 in all -- also strike the proper balance between making us laugh and moving us to tears. Different styles link familiar themes and we never feel as though someone has crammed a score down the throat of someone telling a favorite Christmas story (like the awfully staged musical version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, for example). This musical is an entity of its own while incorporating all we love about the movie. It's a holiday event of its own which deserves perennial holiday production until we have seen it as many times as the movie, which usually runs in a 24-hour marathon on TBS beginning Christmas eve (though listings for this year could not be verified).

Adding to the atmosphere are Elizabeth Hope Clancy's wide-ranging costumes (there's a fantasy number "Ralphie to the Rescue," for example, where Ralphie imagines himself a hero in the Old West where his BB gun keeps bandits at bay.) Turning in some standout performances in the large ensemble are John Babbo as the waiter at a Chinese restaurant, Jeremy Schinder and J.D. Rodriguez as bullies Flick and Schwartz, Pete and Lily (two pooches who play the neighbor's dogs trained by William Berloni, who has another client starring over at Annie....) and tap dance sensation Luke Spring who brought down the house.

Lots of fun, wholesome (the bad language even is masked or funny) and a nice trip down memory lane. I double-dog dare you to see it at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th St., NYC where it runs through Dec. 30. Tickets: 800-745-3000, 877-250-2929; http://achristmasstorythemusical.com/tickets.

More interesting information:
Full disclosure -- one of the producers of A Christmas Story is Pat Addiss, who is a personal friend. She knows I won't change my review in any way just because I like her -- there are a couple of less-than-enthusiastic writeups I have done for other shows she has produced to prove it -- but you should know that you'll always get the truth here, dear readers. Another producer on the show is Peter Billingsley, who plays Ralphie in the movie.

Performance times vary week to week.
November 26 – December 2: Mon.11/26 – DARK; Tues. 11/27 – 7PM; Wed. 11/28 – 7PM; Thurs. 11/29 – 7PM; Fri. 11/30 – 8PM; Sat. 12/1– 2PM & 8PM; Sun. 12/2 – 2PM & 7:30PM

December 3 – 9: Mon. 12/3 – DARK; Tues. 12/4- 7PM; Wed. 12/5 – 2PM & 8PM; Thurs. 12/6 – 7PM; Fri. 12/7 – 8PM; Sat. 12/8 – 2PM & 8PM; Sun. 12/9 – 2PM

December 10 – 16: Mon. 12/10 – DARK; Tues. 12/11- 7PM; Wed. 12/12 – 2PM & 8PM; Thurs. 12/13 – 7PM; Fri. 12/14 – 8PM; Sat. 12/15 – 2PM & 8PM; Sun. 12/16– 2PM & 7:30PM

December 17 – 23: Mon. 12/17 – DARK; Tues. 12/18- 7PM; Wed. 12/19 – 2PM & 8PM; Thurs. 12/20 – 7PM; Fri. 12/21 – 8PM; Sat. 12/22 – 2PM & 8PM; Sun. 12/23– 2PM & 7:30PM

December 24 – 30: Mon. 12/24 – 3PM (Christmas Eve); Tues. 12/25- DARK (Christmas); Wed. 12/26 – 2PM & 8PM; Thurs. 12/27 – 7PM; Fri. 12/28 – 8PM; Sat. 12/29 – 2PM & 8PM; Sun. 12/30– 2PM

Young Writer's Contest: I, now on Broadway this holiday season, has partnered with STOMP Out Bullying to launch an Anti-Bullying Story Competition. Young writers in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades can submit stories about bullying. In five pages or less, tell a story about how bullying has affected your life, about a bullying incident you might have witnessed, or about your own strategies for avoiding bullies at school or in your neighborhood. Every story should include at least one idea, ONE ACTION, that you believe other kids, your school administrators, or your community could initiate to limit or prevent bullying in the future. The competition is open to students inside the Tri-State Area, within 100 miles radius to Broadway.

One winner of the First Place prize will receive two tickets and a walk-on role in the 2012 Broadway production of A Christmas Story, The Musical, plus the Original Cast Album, Backstage Tour and an Award Certificate. Second and Third Place price recipients (1 winner in each category) will receive 2 tickets to A Christmas Story, The Musical, plus the Original Cast Album, Backstage Tour and an Award Certificate. Finally, 10 lucky Runners-Up will also receive the Original Cast Album and Award Certificates.

All entries must be sent via email on or before Dec. 8, 2012 to ANTIBULLYINGETNRY@GMAIL.COM.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Lord's name taken in vain
-- Language

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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