With relentless airings on TV and an upcoming live broadcast of the musical, “A Christmas Story” is probably as familiar to recent generations as “The Wizard of Oz” was to mine.
This season, you not only can see the story in its original film form, but also as a live TV broadcast of the musical coming to Fox on Dec. 17. And, if you act before Nov. 3, you can also catch that same musical in its solid non-equity national tour at the Murat courtesy of Broadway in Indianapolis.
“A Christmas Story: The Musical” comes equipped not only with a strong group of talented kids—including a Ralphie (Tristan Klaphake) who endearingly evokes rather than impersonates his cinematic counterpart—but also with some obstacles that can get in the way of fully losing yourself in the show.
For one, the thin thread of a plot involves a 9-year-old’s desire to have a gun—including a fantasy involving a bomber in a school. For another, the solution to bullying is beating a kid senseless—an act met with barely a reprimand.
And then there’s the whole Chinese restaurant “Fra-la-la-la-la” scene.
Of course, if you are a fan of the movie, you probably have already gotten over those and a few other uncomfortable elements that were much more acceptable to the mainstream in 1983, when the original film was released, than they are today.
What the show does well is maintain interest in what is really a series of nostalgic anecdotes. The snow-suited brother who can't get off the ground. The triple-dog-dare involving tongue and flagpole. You probably know the rest.
What ties it together is the score. It may have been an assignment to the young songwriter team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (now best known for their award-winning “Dear Evan Hansen”), but they stepped up with a set of songs that expound nicely on familiar moments of the film. The warning “You’ll shoot your eye out" becomes a “Bugsy Malone”-style song for Ralphie’s teacher and a talented tapping students. “Up on Santa’s Lap” captures Ralphie’s desperate effort to get Santa to buy into his gift desire. There's even a leg lamp kick line.
There’s also room for songs designed to put a tear in the eye of parents in the audience, tunes anchored by an understated performance by Sara Zoe Budnik as Ralphie’s Mom and a down-home-without-being-cloying one by Chris Carsten as narrator Jean Shepherd.
Surprisingly, this is the tour of the Indiana-set show's first time stopping in Indianapolis. The opening night audience treated it like a gift they've been waiting a long time to open.