John Bolton, a long-stemmed, sitcom-dad type who has been too long in coming to Broadway stardom, rules the unruly Indiana roost in holiday trim in A Christmas Story, a musical version of the 1983 movie that TNT has turned into a seasonal perennial.
In heated moments, he spews forth a streak of blue blazes, working in dirty words "the way painters work in oils." Not to worry, though: it's all garbled gobbledygook to the tender young ears on stage and in the audience of the Lunt-Fontanne where this homefront frolic just bowed Nov. 19 and runs 'til Dec. 30 in all its G-rated glory.
A con amore remembrance of Christmas past, it comes via the late radio personality and humorist Jean Shepherd, first set down in book form as "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash" and then as a screenplay. To his ever-lasting credit, adapter Joseph Robinette has shoved huge loads of Shepherd's brittle sensibilities and dialogue onto the stage and retained a mother lode of its idiosyncratic set-pieces: the home furnace that fights back, the pink bunny pajamas, the tongue-stuck-to-the-flagpole, the bad department-store Santa and his elf henchmen, the chorine's-leg lamp, the Chinese duck Christmas feast, and quite a few of the high-flying fantasies that take over our imaginative, mite-sized Walter Mitty hero of nine, Ralphie Parker.
"Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun" is the big want song — number two in the Playbill, but paramount in Ralphie's book — and it's always being shot down by Mom and Santa alike with "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out," yet another tune title from a cheery, easily engaging score by a couple of under-30 Broadway newbies, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Though the show is set in 1940, it plays slightly older, more postwar. Boys could still sing and scheme about getting a gun for Christmas. I'd place the period at 1946, my last childhood Christmas as a believer.
The opening-night party pushed the envelope farther west on 42nd Street than ever before — a half-block beyond espace, the former last-chance-saloon — to 12th Avenue. Lucky Strike Lanes, with its bowling alley and ping pong tables, was appropriately blue-collar but tolerated the smattering of tuxes (with vested interests, no doubt).
John Rando, a Texas-born director at home in tiny towns (Hammond, IA, here, and his Tony winner, Urinetown), specializes in making strong bonds among cast and crew, making him a good match for A Christmas Story. "I loved working on this show," he confessed with no coaxing at all, "especially because of the family we created with all these wonderful children. We really wanted to feature the children and give them something to take over the show with, and they did. They're special. Then I have a terrific leading man and leading lady, John Bolton and Erin Dilly. They do such good work. Then my little boy, Johnny Rabe, who's an awesome young man and a fantastic Ralphie. It's been a real pleasure because I have such a strong cast."
Rabe grew into the role. "I met Johnny Rabe last year. He was one of the supporting children, and we sorta saw him as perhaps a Ralphie, but we weren't sure, and then he came in and auditioned, and he was spectacular, and we gave him the part."
The Ralphie who originated the role and did it on tour is said to have been waylaid at the finish line by the awkward age. He's now smoking cigarettes and chasing girls. (Kidding.)
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