The 1983 film A Christmas Story – about a 1940s Midwestern boy named Ralphie and his quest to get a BB Gun for Christmas – has never been totally my thing. I would see a scene while surfing through channels, get a chuckle or a crooked grin out of its droll humor, and then move on to another channel, not really engaged. I think I managed to see well over 80% of the movie this way, and I don’t think it was an altogether bad way to see it, given the plot’s episodic structure. But obviously it didn’t stir much enthusiasm in me.
Still, I found what I had seen mildly entertaining, so I am just a bit miffed that the creative team behind the Broadway musical version seemed to have missed the boat in their interpretation. What gave the movie its charm was a coolly wry tone, poking affectionate fun at unspoken truths about childhood and Christmas. In the musical, wry has been traded for wacky and broad, which sits very uneasily on this story and these characters. The creative team have taken the quirky film and turned it into something pretty generic and boring, despite a certain desperate, frantic energy.
I can’t say that I hated it, however. The kids in the cast – and there are a lot of kids in this cast – are marvelously talented, especially the diminutive Luke Spring, who executes tap-dancing pyrotechnics that would put many adult dancers to shame. Why that tap number – or an offensive Asian stereotype late in the show – is there in the first place, is a much murkier issue.
Johnny Rabe as Ralphie, and Zac Ballard as his little brother Randy, actually come pretty darn close to capturing the tone of the film, as does Dan Lauria as the narrating, grown-up Ralphie. John Babbo puts in one of the show’s most committed, focused and energetic performances as the bully Grover Dill.
Do I think this is the best possible stage representation of the film, or the best work of anybody involved? No. But I also don’t think it’s heinously bad. So there, nyah.
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