The 1983 film A Christmas Story is beloved (and endlessly broadcast) because it fills a cultural niche. Other classics have milked the yuletide for moral uplift (It’s a Wonderful Life), magical chills (A Christmas Carol) or heartwarming romance (Love Actually). But Bob Clark’s adaptation of Jean Shepherd’s memoirs has something different: snark, a streak of cruelty and a smartass kid’s view of adults as frazzled, bumbling freaks. For a generation that grew up in the 1980s and ’90s, the movie forms a cultural touchstone for ironic nostalgia and antiauthoritarianism. How sad, then, that the creators of A Christmas Story, The Musical chose to slather the material with sentimentality. Bloated with more schmaltz than a Christmas turkey, the piece ought to be shorter and far more irreverent.
We still get iconic bits from the movie: kid brother Randy packed into his puffy winter coat; Flick being triple-dog-dared into licking a frozen pole and getting his tongue stuck; and the grotesque scene in Higbee’s Department Store, when Ralphie (Johnny Rabe) begs a jaded Santa for a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun. But padding out the show to two hours, composer-lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul alternate genuinely funny novelty songs with sappy, generic ones.
The treatment of Ralphie’s Mother is a prime misstep. In the movie, Melinda Dillon was an exhausted, frizzy-haired Indiana hausfrau, barely keeping control. Erin Dilly is far too urbane and frosty, and her song of self-sacrifice, “What a Mother Does,” is cheesy and superfluous. Better to have given Mother a comic pipe dream—just as the Old Man (John Bolton) has his desperate hope of winning a crossword-puzzle contest. One feels Grinchy taking potshots at a limited run this cheerful (and nimbly staged by John Rando). But when all the wrapping and bows come off, you’ll be disappointed to find a sweater where you really wanted a gun.—David Cote
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote
|Venue name:||Lunt-Fontanne Theatre||Contact:|
205 W 46th St
|Cross street:||between Broadway and Eighth Ave|
|Transport:||Subway: A, C, E to 42nd St–Port Authority; N, Q, R to 42nd St S, 1, 2, 3, 7 to 42nd St–Times Sq|