Marriott's merry 'Christmas Story' a heartwarming tribute to a family's love
"From then on, things were different between me and my mother."
Halfway through the second act of "A Christmas Story, The Musical," the narrator, whose childhood memories this tuner depicts, utters those words during a tender exchange between his distraught 9-year-old self and his mother.
That heartfelt moment, plus another at the end, of Marriott Theatre's heartwarming revival testifies to a family's abiding love. And that is what this pleasantly nostalgic homage to midcentury Middle America is all about.
Based on Bob Clark's 1983 film incorporating humorist and radio personality Jean Shepherd's semi-autobiographical stories from "In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash," "A Christmas Story, The Musical" is a memory play set in the fictional, northwest Indiana city of Hohman during the weeks leading up to Christmas 1940.
Warmed by Jesse Klug's sepia lighting, director Scott Weinstein's production is as comfy as a cardigan. Narrated by Shepherd himself (Kevin McKillip, a superior storyteller too long absent from Chicago stages) as part of his Christmas Eve broadcast, it unfolds as a series of vignettes involving Ralphie Parker (a dynamic, genuine Kavon Newman, who alternates playing the role with Keegan Gulledge) and his family. Most center on Ralphie, who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, but whose efforts are stymied by adults. Their fears that he'll injure himself playing with it are hilariously expressed in the taptastic "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out." Choreographed by Tiffany Krause, the uproarious, hot jazz number showcases Jenna Coker Jones' Miss Shields and a first-rate children's ensemble.
That's one of many memorable movie moments composer/lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and writer Joseph Robinette re-create for the stage: younger brother Randy (Levi Merlo, alternating with Thomas Murphy Molony) incapacitated by his snowsuit, Ralphie's unfortunate use of a forbidden word and the defiant Flick (Jaxon Mitchell) getting stuck to a flagpole in response to a triple-dog dare. An iconic scene from the film, it's accompanied by the terrific "Sticky Situation," a tune that brilliantly captures a dilemma every kid faces: to tell or not to tell.
Among the gems in Pasek and Paul's score is the showstopping "Ralphie to the Rescue!," which finds the would-be hero saving friends and family from assorted evildoers with help from his trusty BB gun. "Up on Santa's Lap," cleverly imagined by Weinstein, is a funny take on a last-minute visit to St. Nick (a nicely peevish Jackson Evans) who can't wait to be done with Christmas. Then there's the wonderfully silly "A Major Award" in which Ralphie's Old Man (the golden-voiced Lorenzo Rush Jr.) -- a fantasist like his son -- celebrates a contest win alongside his wife (Sara Reinecke), sons and a chorus of dancing leg lamps, whimsically costumed by Izumi Inaba.
I found the broadly played production numbers a charming reflection of idealized childhood memories. But Marriott's production is not without authenticity, which Reinecke and McKillip provide in those quiet moments that reveal the true meaning of this "Christmas Story."