BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
The latest family musical to enter the Broadway lists for the holiday season is “A Christmas Story,” which opened on Monday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater and proves to be a genuine charmer.
You know the 1983 movie, right? Book writer Joseph Robinette swiftly covers most of the film’s high points about a boy’s Christmas in Indiana, 1940, complete with BB-gun daydreams, the visit to a cranky Santa at Higbee’s department store, the Old Man and his Leg Lamp prize and that incident with the flagpole, now amusingly musicalized by songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul as a “Sticky Situation.”
Genially narrating these nostalgic episodes, Dan Lauria leads a wonderfully spirited company who resemble Norman Rockwell illustrations but carry on like the dickens in director John Rando’s quick, confident production, which is packed with more holiday goodies than Santa’s entire sleigh.
Certainly the glowing score is an upbeat pleasure. The Old Man’s infamous Leg Lamp now is glorified in a dizzy waltz as dozens of them twirl around in a Busby Berkeley-style kick-line. Another veritable show-stopper is a kiddie nightclub fantasy in which Miss Shields, the schoolmarm, vamps through “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out,” flanked by a horde of pint-sized tap dancers.
Another significant treat is watching the performers put the show over so vibrantly. The bespectacled Johnny Rabe is clear-toned and ingenuous as the ever-anxious Ralphie. John Bolton’s gangling, goofy Old Man recalls Dick Van Dyke at his dizziest. Erin Dilly is all warmth and sweet musicality as Mother. Caroline O’Connor’s prim Miss Shields busts loose on several wacky occasions.
Meanwhile, the pair of yelping bloodhounds who make off with the turkey offer a lot more fun than the pooch currently in “Annie.” Personable as the neighborhood kids, a crowd of young troupers nimbly sings and dances every chance they get. Choreographer Warren Carlyle’s dances are frisky, be it the Wild West revels for a galloping “Ralphie to the Rescue” sequence or that crackling second-act tap number led by tiny Luke Spring.
Designed by Elizabeth Hope Clancy, the period wintertime clothes that everyone wears lend authenticity to the visuals. Speaking of 1940-ish period, the story’s few mildly racist comedy bits look cute rather than dubious while Ralphie’s home town evidently sports a happy ethnic mix. For all of the all-American musical’s bustling events, Rando’s measured direction nicely keeps “A Christmas Story” rolling along at an easygoing clip. No hard-sell business here: Just a familiar tale rendered as appealing musical theater.
“A Christmas Story” continues through Dec. 30 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, 205 W. 46th St., New York. Call (877) 250-2929 or visit www.achristmasstorythemusical.com.