‘Christmas Story’ musical captures film’s charm
BOSTON — For those of you who have been addicted to the marathon showing of “A Christmas Story” on TV each and every Christmas, there is another holiday gift waiting for you.
“A Christmas Story, The Musical” is based closely on the beloved 1983 movie that starred Darren McGavin as The Old Man and Peter Billingsley in the tale of young Ralphie Parker’s all-out quest to have Santa Claus deliver a “Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun” under the tree on Christmas.
The musical became a surprise hit on Broadway in 2012– Billingsley was one of the producers — garnering several Tony nominations. It quickly became a holiday tradition, hitting Boston several times since, and Big League Productions’ touring production is at the gaily-decorated Boch Center Wang Theatre through Dec. 19.
Matt Lenz directs this delightful adaptation, with a pleasant enough score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and production numbers choreographed by Warren Carlyle that are both spectacular and hilarious.
The musical takes all that is funny and good about the movie and amplifies and pumps it up with a large cast and a crew of young actors who are almost too talented — and too cute — to believe.
Remember the fantasy sequences when Ralphie imagines coming to the rescue with his rifle (“Ralphie to the Rescue”) or Miss Shields (Sienna Miller) swooning over his essay? Ralphie’s indiscreet use of the “F word” and subsequent dinner of Lux soap? The flagpole incident? Ralphie’s beatdown of the bully Scut Farkus? Ralphie’s bunny pajamas? It’s all here.
This is actually Ralphie’s third bite of the apple: A stage version of the movie has also been around for a few years.
There are some first-rate production values here you don’t always see in touring productions, including lovely scenic design by Walt Spangler that captures both the warmth of the Parker home on Cleveland Street, Santa’s home at Higbee’s Department Store, and points in between.
Carlyle’s choreography shines in numbers such as “The Genius on Cleveland Street” and “It All Comes Down to Christmas,”
And what would the musical version of “A Christmas Story” be if the infamous leg lamp were not celebrated with its own production number, the hilarious “A Major Award.”
It is 1940 in Hohman, Indiana, and despite the Depression, hopes are high for Christmas in the Parker household on Cleveland Avenue. But can Ralphie overcome the skepticism and doubts of all the adults in his life — including Santa — to find that Red Ryder BB gun under the tree?
Chris Carsten portrays Jean Shepherd, the radio humorist whose remembrances and stories that became a book started the movie in motion. Here he narrates the production as part of a Christman Eve radio program and with his wry humor and commentary manages to exude all the warmth and wonder of the movie, providing the perfect accompaniment to the merriment onstage.
As good as Blake Burnham is as the ever-hopeful Ralphie, Nicholas Reed is right there with him as tormented younger brother Randy, he of the snowsuit so suffocating he can’t put his arms down.
Much of this show’s success is due to the fine work of Sam Hartley, who is a hoot as the blustering Old Man, cursing the furnace and warding off the Bumpus hounds, and joyously celebrating “A Major Award,” and Brianna Gantsweg, who shines as the warm-hearted mother doing her best to get her family through the frigid Indiana winter and safely across the Christmas finish line. Pasek and Paul celebrate her in the musical numbers “What a Mother Does” and “Just Like That.”
And would the evening be complete without the Bumpus hounds – Reba and Jethro — who terrorize The Old Man.
Somehow you knew that inside of Ralphie’s teacher — the normally restrained and conservative Miss Shields (Sierra Miller ) — there was a showgirl waiting to be let out, and let it out she does in a tap-dance spectacular number in the second act, “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out,” aided by a superb tap-dance solo by Josiah Smothers.
“A Christmas Story” is going nowhere without a corps of talented youngsters, and they are truly remarkable and beyond cute.
“A Christmas Story, The Musical” will put a smile on your face, leave you with a lump in your throat and send you out of the theater feeling warm-hearted and happy this holiday season.
The Big League Production’s “A Christmas Story, The Musical.” Music and lyrics by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul. Book by Joseph Robinette, based on the motion picture “A Christmas Story” and the book “In God We Trust, All Others Must Pay Cash” by Jean Shepherd. Direction by Matt Lenz. Choreography by Warren Carlyle. At the Boch Center Wang Theatre through Dec. 19. Bochcenter.org.