Regional Reviews: Boston
A Christmas Story, The Musical
Also see Sarah's review of The Importance of Being Earnest
Punching up the familiar plot with Joseph Robinette's richly-rendered book and a wonderful, eclectic score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul makes for a thoroughly delightful evening at the theater. The touring company brings in endearing Jake Lucas (Ralphie) and Noah Baird (Randy) to play the Parker brothers, but the roles of the principal adults are reprised by the Broadway stars: Dan Lauria (Jean Shepherd), John Bolton (The Old Man), Erin Dilly (Mother) and Caroline O'Connor (Miss Shields). Members of the ensemble play numerous townspeople, and the show business kids are all solid pros, not showy like some child actors tend to be. Even Pete and Lily as the Bumpus Hounds, the nefarious, turkey-stealing neighborhood bloodhounds, stick to the script and perform with discipline and gusto, thanks to proper training by William Berloni.
Framing the show as a radio broadcast places Shepherd as a presence throughout, but Lauria sets the scene, informs us of Ralphie's thought processes, and backs away to watch the events unfold. Although he doesn't sing or dance, his interjections flow organically without disrupting the rhythm; if anything, Lauria's contribution increases the audience's engagement with the story. The lanky Bolton brings to mind Dick Van Dyke as he demonstrates a gift for physical comedy in his dancing, as well as in his pratfalls. His version of The Old Man has the necessary detached gruffness and world-weariness, but Bolton balances his portrayal with more than a hint of the love and connection The Old Man feels for his wife and two boys. His inner child (and wonderful singing voice) is proudly on display in the big production number "A Major Award."
In what may seem like a secondary role, Dilly finds a way to expose the heart of the family and be the mother that everyone within the sound of her sweet voice would like to cuddle up with. Although she is constantly scurrying around the kitchen and serving the men in her life (it is 1940, after all), the role is well-written to quietly and gradually have an impact. Dilly gets to be multi-faceted with her sons, when she's stuffing Randy into his snowsuit or finding a way to get him to eat his mashed potatoes, and when she teaches Ralphie a lesson about using foul language, or takes him in her arms to give him the ultimate comfort.
In any iteration of A Christmas Story, the focus is on Ralphie and his single-minded quest for the BB gun. Lucas is an energetic charmer with the appearance and voice of an altar boy. He makes it look easy carrying the show on his slender shoulders, capably singing, dancing and relating through all of Ralphie's adventures, and reacting appropriately to the repeated warnings that "You'll shoot your eye out." Along with the adorable Baird, the two boys are convincing as brothers and shift their behaviors naturally between the scenes at home and outside with the other children. Nicky Torchia (Schwartz) and Michael Crispi (Flick), who totally owns his moment in the famous flagpole scene, are spot on as Ralphie's school chums, and the bullies Scut Farkus (Mitchell Sink) and Grover Dill (Charlie Babbo) are right out of central casting. Pint-sized Luke Spring is a real showman, a tap whiz and scene-stealer extraordinaire. His table top challenge dance with O'Connor in the fantasy speakeasy production number in the second act is a show stopper.
O'Connor could give Ann Miller a run for the money when she breaks out of her long-suffering, conservative teacher mold to show off her dancer's gams and considerable vocal belt ("You'll Shoot Your Eye Out") in one of choreographer Warren Carlyle's many intricate, high-energy routines. You probably wouldn't want your children to sit on the lap of this Santa Claus (David Scott Purdy), but he and his mean-spirited elves are a well-oiled machine when it comes to getting the kids quickly through the line at Higbee's department store ("Up on Santa's Lap"). The entire ensemble dances up a storm in "It All Comes Down to Christmas" and the western-flavored dream sequence "Ralphie to the Rescue."
Directed by Tony Award-winner (Urinetown, The Musical) John Rando, A Christmas Story, The Musical also boasts great production values, with moveable sets designed by Walt Spangler, effective wintry lighting designed by Howell Binkley, evocative period costumes designed by Elizabeth Hope Clancy, and well-balanced sound design by Ken Travis.
It's a thrill to attend a musical that features both an overture and an entr'acte with live musicians in the pit under the baton of music director and conductor Ben Whiteley. Pasek and Paul's music and lyrics move the story along, deepen our knowledge of the characters and entertain us with warmth, wit and wisdom. As The Old Man and Mother ask the musical question in "A Christmas Story," the final song, "Who could want much more?"
A Christmas Story, The Musical, performances through December 8 at Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts; Box Office 800-982-2787 or www.citicenter.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.achristmasstorythemusical.com.
Book by Joseph Robinette, Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Based upon the motion picture A Christmas Story written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark and In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd; Directed by John Rando, Choreographed by Warren Carlyle; Set Design, Walt Spangler; Costume Design, Elizabeth Hope Clancy; Lighting Design, Howell Binkley; Sound Design, Ken Travis; Music Director and Conductor, Ben Whiteley; Production Stage Manager, Peter Wolf Starring: Dan Lauria, John Bolton, Jake Lucas, Noah Baird, Erin Dilly, Caroline O'Connor; with Charlie Babbo, Gabriella Baldacchino, Hannah Isabel Bautista, Charissa Bertels, Tanya Bird, Beada Briglia, Judae'a Brown, Michael Crispi, Andrew Cristi, Mathew deGuzman, Thay Floyd, Nick Gaswirth, Lizzie Klemperer, Jose Luaces, Mara Newbery, Alexa Niziak, Lindsay O'Neil, David Scott Purdy, Keven Quillon, Lucas Schultz, Mitchell Sink, Luke Spring, Jenny Lee Stern, Eli Tokash, Nicky Torchia, Pete and Lily (the bloodhounds).
- Nancy Grossman