For pop culture fanatics, it’s not really the Christmas season until you hear this line: ”You’ll shoot your eye out!” And now, one doesn’t have to wait to tune into TBS’ A Christmas Story loop on Christmas Eve for that classic yuletide utterance — the quip has officially landed on the Great White Way, too. After a multi-city try-out tour in 2011, a musical version of the holiday classic movie just opened at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
Don’t expect A Christmas Story: The Musical to be an exact replica of the movie, though. Yes, the show’s DNA lies in the 1983 flick about Ralphie (originally played by Peter Billingsley, who is on board as a producer of this show), a young boy in 1940s Indiana pining for a Red Rider BB gun from Santa Claus. And familiar elements remain the same: the iconic leg lamp, the turkey-destroying dogs (they’re real, live dogs), the pink bunny suit, and the tongue-on-the-frozen-flag-pole scene. But there is a decidedly cheesier, we’re-gonna-push-your-buttons vibe to what transpires on stage.
The film evokes a certain screwball nature that has become as synonymous with the holiday season as candy canes. But the stage adaptation plays like a heart-tugging, best-of version of the movie, with a saccharine score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and a book by Joseph Robinette that desperately panders for laughs. Considering the audience for the show — folks who loved the movie during their childhood and are now foisting it upon their children — it’s not a surprising strategy.
The most iconic moments from the original story have been morphed into entire scenes or songs or running gags (again: the live dogs). Some of it works beautifully: The leg lamp plot, which has always been strangely beautiful in its randomness, rises to new heights of oddity, when Ralphie’s dad, Frank (John Bolton), launches into a fantasy song called ”A Major Award,” complete with a kick-line of dancers outfitted with — yep, you guessed it — leg lamps. Odd yes, but somehow it works. In fact, most of the songs are solid, although there are no real new Christmas classics in the mix and some of the parents’ more sentimental numbers (”The Genius on Cleveland Street,” ”What a Mother Does”) drag down the pace in the first act.
There are some additions, too: The kids’ teacher, Miss Shields (Caroline O’Connor), gets a bizarre, starring moment at the beginning of the second act. A dream sequence puts her in a 1930s speakeasy with her dancing students that’s titled, naturally, ”You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.” The crowd roared at the whole thing — but that’s mostly because one of the classroom kids — the tiniest, cutest one, Luke Spring — breaks into a tap routine that would draw applause from the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. The little guy is 9 years old. Only the Grinchiest Christmas Grinch wouldn’t smile.
The musical’s pleasures are far and wide: Dan Lauria is steady as an older version of Ralphie, who narrates the story. Johnny Rabe, who played Ralphie at my performance (Joe West plays some performances), did a nice job of wrangling the curmudgeonly, hopeful nature of his character. Zac Ballard, as younger brother Randy, is a delight. Director John Rando borrows film techniques like freeze-frame and simulated slow motion to great effect.
The show feels too long, particularly in the first act. And Ralphie’s mom (Erin Dilly) feels like a too-sugary shell of the kookily frazzled character played by Melinda Dillon on screen. And of course, the whole production is super-duper schmaltzy. But it’s Christmas. On Broadway. In the winter wonderland of New York City. And a pink bunny suit is involved. For the most part, A Christmas Story: The Musical is exactly what you expect. B+
(Tickets: 212-575-9200 or Ticketmaster.com)