A Christmas Story The Musical
The John W. Engeman Theater offers an intimate setting for this musical hit based on the classic movie.
It's no longer enough to simply catch Ralphie shooting his eye out when the film A Christmas Story runs repeatedly for 24 hours on Christmas. The musical of the film features a whole new set of antics and fun while remaining true to the 1983 movie, which itself was based on stories by legendary radio humorist Jean Shepherd. Following a successful Broadway run in 2012 and an engagement at Madison Square Garden in 2013, the latest incarnation of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's musical at John W. Engeman Theater at Northport is delightful and enjoyable for the whole family, even if its few imperfections ring loudly.
Nine-year-old Ralphie Parker will do anything to get his most coveted gift for Christmas: an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. The pint-size protagonist navigates through leg lamps, a nasty bully, soap-in-mouth punishments, and double dog dares in his great efforts to secure his most desired gift. The musical captures the giving nature of Ralphie's mother, the competitive streak in Ralphie's father, and equal parts joy and angst in Ralphie and younger brother Randy's childhood debacles. Scenes and gags made famous by the film are all intact: Mr. Parker's misreading of the word "fragile," the leg lamp, and of course, Ralphie's iconic bunny suit.
A Christmas Story The Musical is mostly made up of a cast of child actors. The children are talented, but they lack the gusto and awe-inspiring verve that one would hope to see in such a creative show. Their acting is overtly practiced, and reminiscent of what one could easily catch in a local school production. The adult cast makes up for this, somewhat, especially with the belting of Gina Milo, who exhibits the nurturing sensitivity and strong-mindedness of Mother while simultaneously imbuing her with humor. Kathryn Markey as Ralphie's teacher Miss Shields is also a standout, especially in her big second-act dance number, "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out." Markey's nasally demands for writing within the margins and her comical renditions of Ralphie's fantasies are highlights.
Ethan Eisenberg's Ralphie is wide-eyed and hopeful, a very endearing combination for the perfect underdog. Audiences will find themselves holding their breaths when Ralphie drops the sparkplugs of his Old Man (Steve Luker) in the snow, prompting a hilariously profane outburst. Luker's enormous reaction is one not to be missed. Ralphie's younger brother is portrayed by Griffin Reese, whose humorous moments go lost or unheard. Unfortunately, his iconic lines are not enunciated or evident to audiences unless they already know his lines are coming. Though David Schmittou's Jean Shepherd (also known as the narrator) is underused, the cleverness of the show more than makes up for this tired note. Additionally, the ensemble in A Christmas Story The Musical is terrific. Their escapades at Santa's Station at Higbee's in the memorable department store scene are only more hysterical when coupled with choreography (complete with cigarettes and alcohol for Santa and his elves).
Pasek and Paul's catchy earworms of songs are stellar. Joseph Robinette's book is equally intelligent. Richard T. Dolce's direction is thoughtful and playful, as nary a moment goes by when the familial festivities and childhood shenanigans don't demonstrate realism in their execution. His choices overcome the challenge of building an entire classroom for one number, only to transform it into a wild-west fantasy sequence within the same scene. Even though dogs do not take the stage when the neighboring Bumpus hounds snatch the turkey right out from Old Man's nose, it still allows for an enjoyable sight gag.
Tristan Raines' costumes are superb in their timeliness. Raines' dancing leg lamps are a fun trick, while colorfully adorned westerners for "Ralphie to the Rescue!" look like they raced out of a Saturday-morning cartoon. When the eye-popping elf costumes are teamed with Jonathan Collins' candy-colored store, the scene is simply magical, and a nice foil to the warm, earthy tones of the modest Parker home (with its own hint of color in the twinkling light of the Christmas tree, of course). Antoniette DiPietropolo's energetic choreography comes alive in numbers showcasing the children. "When You're a Wimp" is a specifically entertaining display of the children's knack for timing, and additionally showcases the comedic talents of Jake Kalinowski (at the performance I attended) in the role of bully Scut Farkus.
A Christmas Story The Musical truly personifies fun for the whole family, providing laughs for both adult and child audiences alike — a perfect way to revisit this classic story with a musical twist that is as clever as it is entertaining. You may not shoot your eye out, but you will bust your gut laughing.