A CHRISTMAS STORY—Facing the Music—
REVIEW BY EUGENE B. BERGMANN
I attended the Broadway opening of “A Christmas Story—The Musical” (November 19, 2012) with some trepidation. (Shep-heir Irwin Zwilling had given me the ticket and the invite to the after-event party at the “Lucky Strike Lanes”—a grand affair!) What would they do to Jean Shepherd and the movie? Not to worry—they did great!
On arrival I saw on the theater façade, along with a few other large, framed photos, one of Dan Lauria as Shepherd, and what does the caption to the photo say?
“The Jean Shepherd Show,
Home of the Greatest Stories Ever Told.”
Dan Lauria as Shep—this is NOT
The image in the theater’s poster.
Ah, yes! This definitely boded well for those of us Shep acolytes who feared that the musical would not sufficiently acknowledge our hero. The Playbill for the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, in its “CAST (in order of appearance) list Jean Shepherd (Dan Lauria), first.
After the short overture, with curtain still down, the prologue begins: “A street corner outside radio station WOR, New York City/the radio studio desk—Christmas Eve, several years ago.” There is Jean Shepherd who speaks to us, introducing the play. He is seated at a microphone that has on it “WOR,” and he indicates that he is telling the entire story of the musical at hand.
“Shepherd” appears very frequently as the person we in the audience see but the players in the story do not. He roves in and out among the people and the sets, observing the scene and making comments. This is all handled well, and is a great tribute to Shepherd, especially when you realize that the entire production could have negated his presence entirely—to its detriment. (In the movie, you hear his voice throughout, but, if you don’t know, or haven’t paid attention to the opening credits, you might not even realize that Shepherd is the omnipresent creator. In the musical, Lauria/Shep is present and accounted for.)
At the party afterward, Mr. Zwilling told me that Dan Lauria had asked him for help in realizing the Shepherd character. I didn’t have the opportunity to ask him in what way he assisted. I imagine that giving Lauria a lot of Shep audios of radio shows would have done it. (I subsequently read that Lauria said that he and his dad had listened to Shep when he was a kid.)
The musical follows the movie quite well, although not slavishly, diverting where it’s not important or where a visualization on stage might not be worth it. The sets are very good and flexible, in a well-orchestrated, stylized fashion, moving back and forth, up and down, as required to change the scene (indoors as in the house, and outside for the flick/flagpole scene, etc.). I enjoyed the way the sets performed and I enjoyed the script and acting a lot. The dance and other musical numbers were very entertaining—all you could ask for. The audience loved it all.
Highly worthwhile. All the professional reviewers (with a few who had
minor negative comments I don’t agree with) liked it too. WOW!