Christmas Story Leg Lamps

December 16, 2011 by staff 

Christmas Story Leg Lamps, Ralphie fans, rejoice: A Christmas Story, the Musical! made good December 14 on weeks of buzz, opening its two-week stay at the Chicago Theatre, the grand finale of its premiere run (with a presumed eye on Broadway in 2012). Its many boosters will be relieved to hear that it ultimately does a bang-up job of bringing the beloved tale to life—albeit with a bit of blind eye toward sensitive issues involving gender, race and religion.

Fans of the 1983 holiday movie, and they are legion, will find a faithful musical adaptation that adheres to the well-known plot—no big surprise, given that Peter Billingsley, the original Ralphie, produced this version. As before, the story centers around a bespectacled 9-year-old (Clarke Hallum) whose Christmas wish is to receive a Red Ryder Action Air Rifle BB Gun. If you’ve seen the film, you know how things end; if you haven’t, well, let’s just say that many tribulations can affect a young boy’s heart when he’s in love with a BB gun, the most famous of which is a prediction: “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” Even Santa joins in the admonition, dashing Ralphie’s December hopes like only Kris Kringle could.

There’s much to love here, from Rachel Bay Jones’s heartwarming turn as Mother to John Bolton’s spot-on rendition of a ’40s father who wants to show affection but instead focuses on fixing busted furnaces and broke-down Oldsmobiles—or tries to fix them, anyhow. The show itself is framed as a radio play based on the narrator’s childhood as told by Jean Shepherd (a capable Gene Weygandt, the Chicago actor most familiar to local audiences for his long run as the Wizard in Wicked). Now a radio broadcaster in 1975 New York City, he’s accompanied by Foley artist Nick Gaswirth (who, with an impressive range of man-made sound effects from barking dogs to sirens, could rival any modern beat-boxer). They craft a vision of childhood filled with much fantasy—including a scene in which Ralphie’s school teacher turns into a witch, accompanied by schoolchildren as flying monkeys.

There’s a wistful appreciation for the various nebulous “things” parents do, from mothers who put themselves last to fathers who are a bit silly in their ambition but nonetheless work hard to maintain dignity for themselves. I also found myself reassured by Weygandt’s American “broadcast” accent, standard-issue for a 1970s New York radio man from the Midwest.

The family interactions—a pre-Feminist Mystique marriage, the classic bickering between big and little brothers—and the children’s dance numbers, evocative of Annie, are spot-on for post-Depression middle America. The show’s score, by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, contains hummable hits and some beautiful ballads.

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