We gave it a C+
A Christmas Story, the 1983 movie based on Jean Shepherd’s book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, has literally been played 24-hours-a-day by TNT for more than a decade over the holidays. That’s both the reason you may want to see the stage musical based on the film (which kicked off on Nov. 8 in Hershey, Penn., on the first leg of a five-city tour), and the reason may not enjoy yourself as much as you’d hoped.
You know the story: Young Ralphie (Clarke Hallum, alternating with Carl Kimbrough at some performances) wants a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun for Christmas, but he’s repeatedly told he’ll shoot his eye out if he gets one. As an adult looking back at one fateful 1940 holiday season, he reminds us all that we remember more than the presents we got or didn’t get at Christmas — what we really treasure is the time spent with our families. The producers who adapted the film for the stage (including movie Ralphie Peter Billingsley) face a tricky challenge: Audiences anticipate what’s about to happen and are tempted to judge the performances based on the ones they’ve already seen.
They’ve started by physically tweaking the solid, game cast: Ralphie now resembles Year One Harry Potter, The Old Man (John Bolton) and Mother (Rachel Bay Jones) are younger, teacher Miss Shields (Karen Mason) is a blonde, and Flick (Nicholas Daniel Gonzalez, who does a phenomenal job acting like his tongue is stuck to a pole) isn’t Caucasian.
But though Bolton is the best salesman on stage, I found it difficult to buy that his Old Man (less grizzled and intimidating than Darren McGavin’s movie dad) would be singing a song, ”The Genius on Cleveland Street,” while entering the contest that earns him the major award. Perhaps I would have given in sooner if the tune was catchy and clever enough that I was humming it when I left. (Unfortunately, only one of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s 19 new songs is a winner — ”Ralphie to the Rescue!” in which Ralphie imagines how he’d save his class from outlaws with his Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun.) It wasn’t until five scenes later, when the Old Man leads a chorus holding copies of the infamous leg lamp in a show-stopping kickline during his best number, ”A Major Award,” that I accepted Bolton’s Ed Helms-like Old Man.
I don’t mean to sound like a Scrooge. There are moments when the musical — directed by John Rando, with a book by Joseph Robinette — entertains on its own merits. Two scenes I’d like to see again are the ensemble dance numbers ”A Major Award” and ”Ralphie to the Rescue!” (the choreography is by Warren Carlyle). There’s a lovely song, ”Just Like That,” that Mother sings to comfort Ralphie after his fight with bully Scut Farkus (Charlie Plummer) that makes you appreciate that beat in the story more than the film. And you may find yourself watching the kids’ ”When You’re a Wimp” number to see if Randy (Matthew Lewis) keeps his arms up in his snowsuit the whole time (he did!).
But I’m not sure it’s worth the often steep price of live theater tickets to watch a story you can see at home for free. (However, you way want to splurge on the merchandise, which includes an $85 pink bunny suit and a multitude of leg lamp memorabilia — $10 keychain, $15 light-up lapel pin, $20 night light, $33 string lights, $55 desk lamp, and $145 tall lamp.) C+
(Tickets and tour info: AChristmasStoryTheMusical.com)