This theater image released by Keith Sherman & Associates shows John Bolton with the company during a performance of “A Christmas Story, The Musical” in New York. (AP Photo/Keith Sherman & Associates, Carol Rosegg)
NEW YORK (AP) — We’ve all seen the scene in “A Christmas Story” when the kid gets his tongue stuck on a frozen flagpole. Now on Broadway is that very same scene — plus the kid actually singing through it, or at least trying to sing.
“Sthlun luv a…,” he mumbles at the end.
It’s just one great touch in a musical that dares to mess with one of the most popular Christmas-time movies of all time and yet manages to not only do the film justice, but top it.
The show that opened Monday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre is a charming triumph of imagination that director John Rando has infused with utter joy. It’s also a snappy piece of mature songwriting from a pair of guys barely as old as the original 1983 film.
The duo, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are making their Broadway debuts with a score that is funny, nostalgic, warm and tender. Among the best tunes are “Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana,” ”Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun” and “Ralphie to the Rescue.”
The book by Joseph Robinette honors the film — yes, the bright pink bunny suit and Chinese restaurant are both still there, as are most of the iconic moments — while adding zaniness.
That stocking-clad plastic lamp leg that makes dad so happy? In the musical, multiple lamps come out onstage to, naturally, create a kick-line. The Bumpus hounds? Here, they’re real, two dogs bounding across the stage, adding a jolt of delight. The flagpole scene seems better when everyone is singing “Sticky Situation.”
For those of you who have managed to avoid this particular Christmas staple, the film and musical are based on writer and radio-TV personality Jean Shepherd’s semiautobiographical story of 9-year-old Ralphie Parker’s desperate attempt to land an air rifle as a Christmas gift, despite warnings from everyone that he’ll shoot his eye out.
The cast is led by a multi-talented Johnny Rabe as Ralphie — some performances star Joe West in the role — and a cast of skillful children, who can give the kids over at “Annie” a run for their money. One from the ensemble — 9-year-old tap dancing prodigy Luke Spring — brings the house down during a fantasy scene in a children’s speakeasy.
Warren Carlyle’s inspired choreography manages to cut the sweetness with funny tart moments, such as the use of slow motion as a nod to the musical’s roots, or pyramids of people slightly off-kilter or manic elves at a department store.
Dan Lauria, who played the dad in “The Wonder Years,” stars as the narrator and doesn’t have to work too hard, yet he brings a throwback warmth and sad shake of his head that adds instant nostalgia.
An elastic John Bolton gets hysterically obsessed and flustered as the Old Man. Erin Dilly plays the mother with lovely grace and does a beautiful job with the touching song “What a Mother Does.” Caroline O’Connor is comedic gold as the daffy school teacher.
At a recent preview, the audience seemed well-versed with the film and anticipatory laughs swirled even before well-known scenes had begun, but rarely did the new version fall flat. Purists may be upset to miss some film elements — such as Ralphie’s decoder ring — but few will walk away thinking “A Christmas Story” has been dishonored, itself a little Christmas miracle.