For 15 years, fans of Ralphie Parker’s warm-hearted quest for a Red Ryder BB gun in a fictional Indiana town have gathered in front of TBS for its annual 24-hour marathon of the cult holiday classic A Christmas Story. Now, just in time for the holiday season, A Christmas Story, The Musical has arrived at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
The 1983 film’s devotees need not worry: the musical is a faithful adaptation. Nearly all the film’s iconic scenes have been preserved: the mortifying bunny pajamas; the “triple-dog-dare” tongue-frozen-onto-a-flagpole debacle; and, of course, the garishly iconic leg lamp. Joe Robinette, who wrote the book, says, “We didn’t dare leave them out or people would say, ‘Where was that tongue-sticking scene? That was my favorite.’”
But, he says—spoiler alert—the Little Orphan Annie decoder pin did not survive the cut.
Overall, however, the story is unchanged: Ralphie (Johnny Rabe) still craves an official Red Ryder carbine-action, two-hundred-shot range model air rifle even though he is repeatedly told, “You’ll shoot your eye out”—which, incidentally, is the title of one of the musical’s songs.
And here’s a key bit of trivia for fans of the celluloid version: Peter Billingsley, who so winningly played the bespectacled Ralphie in the film, is one of the producers.
In addition to Rabe, the cast includes John Bolton as Ralphie’s father, Erin Dilly as Ralphie’s mother, and Dan Lauria as the onstage narrator, Jean Shepherd, the humorist, satirist and raconteur whose stories, including “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” inspired the making of the film. (Shepherd also co-wrote the movie.)
Nevertheless, transforming a beloved film into a stage musical requires tweaks, even if the tale remains he same. Maintaining the film’s appeal in a new medium has been the job of Robinette, composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, director John Rando, and choreographer Warren Carlyle (who also directed and choreographed the new Broadway hit, Chaplin: The Musical).
“I hope people walk away saying that it was the movie with an extra dimension—that it’s not just the movie on stage. You don’t want that or you’d just rent the movie,” Robinette said. “We hope we’ve done enough to make it different enough for people to see it and say, ‘I want to rent the movie.’”
Lauria was working on the new TBS sitcom Sullivan & Son when one of its producers—Billingsley himself—suggested that he might want to return to Broadway in the Shepherd part. Last seen on Broadway in the title role of Lombardi, Lauria describes the show as “…the movie with music. The book was shortened to accommodate the songs but they incorporated some of the lines from the movie into the lyrics. I compare it to Once.”
Lauria goes on to joke that he is “the least talented guy in the cast. I can’t sing, I can’t dance,” he says. And yet the veteran actor was assured that he was ideal for the role, which also includes appearing as different walk-on characters, like the postman who delivers “the” telegram. But in the end, it’s his portrayal of Shepherd that sets the musical’s nostalgic ambience and unique humor.
“I’ve always been a Shepherd fan,” Lauria says, admitting that while he speaks faster than Shepherd (who was heard in the film as the adult Ralphie), he has adopted some of the writer’s expressiveness. “What I like in Shepherd is you can almost hear him giggling,” he adds.
For Robinette, because the movie is a favorite of his four sons, who would watch it faithfully every Christmas, he didn’t really need to go back to the shooting script when writing the musical. “I had it memorized,” he said, adding that there’s just something universal about A Christmas Story’s appeal.
“Christmas is when you can ask for the moon and the sun and if you get the moon, you’re happy about it. But this little boy wanted the sun and no moon could be had,” he says. “And when he gets it, it’s ‘Wowee!’”
“There’s so much stuff in this show that kids can relate to… and that adults can relate back to their childhood,” he concludes. “It’s real.”
A Christmas Story, The Musical is playing through 12/30 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St. For tickets, call 877-250-2929 or click here.
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