Music and lyrics: by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, book by Joseph Robinette, based on writings of Jean Shepherd and 1983 film. At: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St. Tickets: thechicagotheatre.com; 800-745-3000; $35-79 . Runs through: Dec. 30
Christmastime brings with it a bevy of annual comforts, and these traditions are perhaps the most stubborn when it comes to film and theatre. In an ordinary universe devoid of holiday cheer, annually producing A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker along with 24-hour marathons of A Christmas Story would be deemed lunacyyet, we voluntarily re-experience them every year.
To earn a place on that list of holiday traditions is to ascend to a sort of Yuletide nirvana, something that producers ironically desire and exploit. In that sense, A Christmas Story, the Musical! was inevitable, but either a special place in the hearts of so many (or a Christmas miracle) seem to have saved it from the fate of a completely hackneyed film-to-stage adaptation. The book honors the film's most iconic moments and young music/lyrics duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul mostly enhances the classic story with catchy Broadway-safe tunes.
The trouble with reimagining any revered source material is the potential to be torn to shreds due to constant comparison. Joseph Robinette, who has adapted a number of treasured children's stories for the stage, successfully identifies the key scenes of the 1983 film that would cause anarchy if overlooked or mishandled. Tony Award-winning director John Rando (Urinetown) and the artistic crew bring them to life with a sensitivity as if divinely ordained with the task, and without sacrificing staging practicalities either.
Pasek and Paul see these classic scenes as opportunities for musical expansion, even if they end up like the lyrically benign number "A Major Award," the old man's joyful revelry in his prized fishnet stocking-leg lamp. As unnecessary as the song seems, its genesis coming a beloved movie moment (and involving choreography with some 20 duplicate lamps) makes it one of the show's biggest crowd-pleasing numbers.
Small tangents in the film, such as Ralphie's daydreams, make for the most ideal musical embellishments. Ralphie's Wild West fantasy of saving his family thanks to his BB gun actually makes for the show's best number, "Ralphie to the Rescue"enough so that it's reprised twice in the second act. Clarke Hallum, as Ralphie, is a joy, as is his unfaltering and pristine young voice.
However, the glue of it alland rightfully so, considering it takes the movie from good to greatis the narration. Park Ridge native Gene Weygandt brings the precise humor of actual narrator Jean Shepherd and an added emotional wallop that expresses the nature of the story even better than the film does.
Outside of a few boring ballads for the sake of ballads and some other musical fluff, A Christmas Story, the Musical! has enough mirthful energy to warrant an annual Christmas tour at a Broadway level. With so many child-speaking parts and a large children's ensemble, it's not only family-friendly, but should also prove inspiring to kids' inner artists.
A tiny cringe of hesitation is to be expected when approaching a reworking of a classic, and even the show's slightest nuances have the potential to disappoint, but most will find themselves surprised at what a touch of Broadway does to this Christmas staple.