Christmas Story: Review Roundup

Johnny Rabe

The new musical A Christmas Story, based on Jean Shepherd’s 1966 book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and 1983 screenplay A Christmas Story, opened last night at the Lunt-Fontanne to generally positive reviews. It has been a long road to Broadway for the show, which began in 2006, when Joseph Robinette first adapted the story. After a 2008 New York reading, Kansas City Rep hosted the world premiere production in 2009, with the commercial tryout taking place at Seattle’s 5th Ave. Theatre during the 2010 holiday season. The musical then made a five-city tour last year (from Hershey, Pa., to Chicago), in preparation for its Broadway debut this year. The creative team includes Joseph Robinette (book), Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (lyrics, music), John Rando (direction), Warren Carlyle (choreography), Walt Spangler (sets), Elizabeth Hope Clancy (costumes), Howell Binkley (lights), Ken Travis (sound), Tom Watson (hair), Larry Blank (orchestrations), and Ian Eisendrath (music direction). The cast includes Dan Lauria (Jean Shepherd), John Bolton (Old Man), Johnny Rabe (Ralphie), Zac Ballard (Randy), Erin Dilly (Mother) and Caroline O’Connor (Miss Shields).

Erik Haagensen (Back Stage): A Christmas Story: The Musical is yet one more attempt to mine Broadway dollars out of a popular holiday tale. … Joseph Robinette’s efficient book sets the musical specifically in December 1940, the last Christmas before America joined the war, lending it an air of innocence about to be lost. … Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul … have provided a melodic, well-crafted pastiche score that’s more dutiful than inspired. … Still, the songs, though not always necessary, are never unwelcome. Director John Rando keeps the production’s tongue lightly in its cheek while moving things briskly along, helping to disguise the episodic structure. … A Christmas Story is an unlikely animal: a cynical commercial entertainment with a soul.

Charles Isherwood (N.Y. Times): Every year at this time Broadway producers are seized with the urge to pick parents’ pockets with splashy holiday fare aimed at young audiences. A Christmas Story … wins points for being less glitzy and more soft-spoken than the garish, overbearing musical versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Elf. … Directed efficiently by John Rando, it’s a collage of childhood snapshots. … Mr. Pasek and Mr. Paul have provided a likable, perky score that duly translates all of the major episodes in the story into appropriate musical numbers. … But the sequences that make the children in the audience perk up and stop fidgeting are naturally the big dance numbers led by the smaller fry in the cast.

Andy Propst (Theater Mania): Devotees of the film, as well as theatergoers who have never seen (or even liked) the movie, will be pleased with what they find on stage. Book writer Joseph Robinette faithfully replicates all of the high-points of the source material. … There are a host of winning performances in A Christmas Story, led by Rabe’s beaming but never cloying turn. … The other star of this number is 9-year-old Luke Spring, one of the kids from the energetic but healthily ordinary young people’s ensemble. He delivers a tap specialty like a pint-sized Tommy Tune that literally stops the show. … It’s to the creators’ credit that the show’s final scene contains one tiny detail not found in the film that produces gales of laughter. Originality in a movie-turned-musical? God bless us, everyone.

David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter): A cut above the pack, it’s cute, corny, wholesome and sentimental – all basic requirements for family-friendly seasonal stage entertainment. But it also packs ample heart into its wistful glance back. … Sturdily adapted by Joseph Robinette, it features a peppy, period-flavored score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. … The scene-stealer in this splashy big-band production number is pint-sized tap-dancing dynamo Luke Spring. In these songs and others, director John Rando and choreographer Warren Carlyle’s clever use of the dozen talented triple-threat kids in the cast is a winning ingredient. … Unexpectedly, the show pulses with genuine feeling, which should guarantee return engagements.

Steven Suskin (Variety): This tuner boasts a heartwarming but wise story, an impressive score by Broadway newcomers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, canny staging and a series of laugh-out-loud production numbers. … Joseph Robinette’s book is funny, direct and to the point, even if the plot, like the screenplay, feels at times like a string of unrelated anecdotes. Helmer John Rando does his best recent work with jokes and gags galore. … Warren Carlyle typically starts his numbers with the dancers, then adds the kids doing the same steps, building the numbers into demented delights. Standing out is the littlest boy actor, Luke Spring.

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