December 23, 2013 5:10 pm

A Christmas Story, Madison Square Garden, New York – review

This nostalgic tale will make believers out of Christmas-phobes
David Scott Purdy (centre, standing) and Jake Lucas (seated) in ‘A Christmas Story’©Carol Rosegg

David Scott Purdy (centre, standing) and Jake Lucas (seated) in ‘A Christmas Story’

The promotional poster for Kinky Boots , which over the past year has acquired the status of the most popular new show on Broadway, features two mannequin legs in spangly holiday red. I confess, however, to preferring the shapely synthetic pin featured in A Christmas Story, the musical at the cavernous Theater at Madison Square Garden.

In this nostalgic tale set in small-town Indiana in 1940, that leg forms the base of a lamp. It is a prize that The Old Man – the father figure in this household of Mum, Dad and two young sons, Ralphie and Randy – has won in a contest. The Old Man cherishes the lamp as if it possesses Aladdin-like magic.

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Since this show is razzle-dazzle holiday fare, legs of all kinds are on display. The kick line of the vast cast may not rival that of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular’s Rockettes, but other movements delight. An Act 2 tap extravaganza in which Jake Lucas, as Ralphie, leads the tots in a 1930s-style guys-and-dolls number is practically Astaire delirious. And the children’s Act 1 sequence, “Ralphie to the Rescue!”, offers a Wild West showcase to rival the cowpokes in the 1943 Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland smile-fest Girl Crazy.

Given the popularity of the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, which like the musical is based on the autobiographical writings of Jean Shepherd, the children in my audience knew the key moments before they occurred. And just as another classic holiday flick, Home Alone, plugged into a primal kiddie fantasy, so does A Christmas Story feature a sure-fire plot device: Ralphie longs for a gift that his mother refuses to countenance. He wants a Red Ryder BB Gun.

In the post-Newtown-massacre culture of the US today a musical celebrating a child’s desire to own a firearm may not seem the jolliest way to cap a day of shopping. But I can assure you that you will be quickly won over by the performances of Lucas, of Dan Lauria as the authorial narrator, and of John Bolton and Erin Dilly as the parents. The co-composer/lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul exhibit a mastery of period pastiche. But the highest compliment I can offer A Christmas Story is to say that it made me – a card-carrying hater of Nutcrackers, pantos and all other manner of holiday treacle – into a true believer.



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