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Home » A Christmas Story » JEAN SHEPHERD-A CHRISTMAS STORY Part 4, the musical

JEAN SHEPHERD-A CHRISTMAS STORY Part 4, the musical

A CHRISTMAS STORY—Facing the Music—

REVIEW BY EUGENE B. BERGMANN

ACS musical playbill

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 in ACS

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.

acs scenes 1

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.)

acs scenes 2

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.

leglamp dance ACS musical

Highly worthwhile.  All the professional reviewers (with a few who had

minor negative comments I don’t agree with) liked it too.  WOW!

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5 Comments

  1. mygingerpig says:

    One wonders how much of the success of the movie was a result of Bob Clark’s brilliance. I recall reading somewhere of the relationship between Clark and Shepherd during the making of the film. Knowing Shep’s inability to relinquish control in something as central to him as this movie, and knowing Clark’s track record of comic success, it is story to be written. Do you have any information about this Gene? If so, I’d love to see your blog posts tell this story.
    Joel

    • ebbergmann says:

      Joel, all I know about it (and I assume others don’t know more), is that Shep was constantly inserting himself into the production–telling actors how he thought a scene should be played, etc. so when the filming was about half over, Clark said that he managed to get Shep off the set. One or more of the kid actors sugest this also in the book A CHRISTMAS STORY–BEHIND THE SCENES OF A HOLIDAY CLASSIC.

  2. mygingerpig says:

    I assume he had much more control over the PBS movies and Ollie Hoopnoodle,not of which enjoyed the success of ACS. Some say they were better works, but that’d iust not my reaction to them. I’d like to see a blog discussion among fatheads on the comparisons among these works.

    • ebbergmann says:

      I also assume and believe he had much more control, but I haven’t specific evidence to back it up.

      I think a discussion of the relative merits of Shep’s PBS movies, etc. would be a good one. Somehow, based on early results, I doubt that my blog, as it’s set up by wordpress, would be a good venue for receiving many comments. I also imagine that most people (in order to give a considered response to this) would have to watch each of the candidates one or more times and produce an extensive, comparative critique–that’s what I’d have to do, as I haven’t watched any of them for several years. I tried mygingerpig and I don’t understand what one does on that blog page. I wonder if the http://www.flicklives.com page devoted to topics and comments would work. I just don’t know how such a project would get moving to produce good results.

  3. mygingerpig says:

    The Yahoo group would be a good place if enough people would participate. Or the Facebook page with a devoted thread to the subject.

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