If it’s not too early I know what I want for Christmas next year: fewer Christmas musicals on and around Broadway. I do not wish to sound like Scrooge, but we’ve definitely surpassed the saturation point.
Broadway is currently playing host to a return engagement of Elf, based on the 2003 Will Ferrell film, and A Christmas Story, The Musical, based on the 1983 film comedy that continues to be telecast each year. Even The Mystery of Edwin Drood takes place around Christmas.
And just a few blocks away, you can find the perennial Radio City Christmas Spectacular and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which played Broadway a few years ago, at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
In A Christmas Story, which is extremely faithful to the film, nine-year-old bespectacled Ralphie (played by the big-voiced Johnny Rabe) longs to receive a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, in spite of numerous adults insisting that he would shoot his eye out with one, in 1940s Indiana.
While there are no BB guns for sale at the show’s gift shop (or, for that matter, a miniature icy cold flagpole), you can purchase countless other mementos from the film including a pink bunny suit or a tall leg lamp. (I recommend just going with a t-shirt.)
The central problem in mounting a stage version lies with depicting the adult Ralphie, who serves as the film’s off-screen narrator. Here, Dan Lauria, best remembered as the father from The Wonder Years, wanders aimlessly around the stage and speaks directly to the audience, rather like a Ghost of Christmas Future.
Although Lauria reacts to the proceedings with childlike enthusiasm, his presence makes the storytelling especially clunky and disjointed. John Bolton makes a stronger impact as Ralphie’s strange, high-strung father.
While John Rando’s broadly comedic production recreates all the famous moments of the film, the real perk of A Christmas Story lies in its highly melodic, original score by the up-and-coming team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who also penned the recent Off-Broadway musical Dogfight.
Come to think of it, here’s a better Christmas wish: more new musicals by Pasek and Paul.