This theater image released by Keith Sherman & Associates shows John Bolton with the company during a performance of "A Christmas Story, The
This theater image released by Keith Sherman & Associates shows John Bolton with the company during a performance of "A Christmas Story, The Musical" in New York. (AP Photo/Keith Sherman & Associates, Carol Rosegg)

NEW YORK (AP) - We've all seen the scene in "A Christmas Story" when the kid gets his tongue stuck on a frozen flagpole. Now on Broadway is that very same scene - plus the kid actually singing through it, or at least trying to sing.

"Sthlun luv a...," he mumbles at the end.

It's just one great touch in a musical that dares to mess with one of the most popular Christmas-time movies of all time and yet manages to not only do the film justice, but top it.

The show that opened Monday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre is a charming triumph of imagination that director John Rando has infused with utter joy. It's also a snappy piece of mature songwriting from a pair of guys barely as old as the original 1983 film.

This theater image released by Keith Sherman & Associates shows Johnny Rabe during a performance of "A Christmas Story, The Musical" in New York.
This theater image released by Keith Sherman & Associates shows Johnny Rabe during a performance of "A Christmas Story, The Musical" in New York. (AP Photo/Keith Sherman & Associates, Carol Rosegg)


The duo, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are making their Broadway debuts with a score that is funny, nostalgic, warm and tender. Among the best tunes are "Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana," ''Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun" and "Ralphie to the Rescue."

The book by Joseph Robinette honors the film - yes, the bright pink bunny suit and Chinese restaurant are both still there, as are most of the iconic moments - while adding zaniness.

That stocking-clad plastic lamp leg that makes dad so happy? In the musical, multiple lamps come out onstage to, naturally, create a kick-line. The Bumpus hounds? Here, they're real, two dogs bounding across the stage, adding a jolt of delight. The flagpole scene seems better when everyone is singing "Sticky Situation."

For those of you who have managed to avoid this particular Christmas staple, the film and musical are based on writer and radio-TV personality Jean Shepherd's semiautobiographical story of 9-year-old Ralphie Parker's desperate attempt to land an air rifle as a Christmas gift, despite warnings from everyone that he'll shoot his eye out.

The cast is led by a multi-talented Johnny Rabe as Ralphie - some performances star Joe West in the role - and a cast of skillful children, who can give the kids over at "Annie" a run for their money. One from the ensemble - 9-year-old tap dancing prodigy Luke Spring - brings the house down during a fantasy scene in a children's speakeasy.

Warren Carlyle's inspired choreography manages to cut the sweetness with funny tart moments, such as the use of slow motion as a nod to the musical's roots, or pyramids of people slightly off-kilter or manic elves at a department store.

Dan Lauria, who played the dad in "The Wonder Years," stars as the narrator and doesn't have to work too hard, yet he brings a throwback warmth and sad shake of his head that adds instant nostalgia.

An elastic John Bolton gets hysterically obsessed and flustered as the Old Man. Erin Dilly plays the mother with lovely grace and does a beautiful job with the touching song "What a Mother Does." Caroline O'Connor is comedic gold as the daffy school teacher.

At a recent preview, the audience seemed well-versed with the film and anticipatory laughs swirled even before well-known scenes had begun, but rarely did the new version fall flat. Purists may be upset to miss some film elements - such as Ralphie's decoder ring - but few will walk away thinking "A Christmas Story" has been dishonored, itself a little Christmas miracle.

Online: www.AChristmasStoryTheMusical.
This theater image released by The Hartman Group shows Mitchell Sink, left, and Jordan Gelber during a performance of the musical "Elf," in New
This theater image released by The Hartman Group shows Mitchell Sink, left, and Jordan Gelber during a performance of the musical "Elf," in New York. (AP Photo/The Hartman Group, Joan Marcus)
com

____

Review: 'Elf' returns to Broadway with same charm

Peter Santilli, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - Two years after Buddy the Elf made Broadway audiences believe in an unlikely theatrical adaptation of a Will Ferrell movie - an adaptation without Ferrell - "Elf" the musical is back with yet another lead actor and all the joy we've come to expect from the industrious toy-maker in green tights.

The splashy holiday musical opened Sunday at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre with a new opening number and fresh faces in a few principal roles.

It's also worth noting what hasn't changed, the core members of a stellar creative team that made this show a welcome addition to the holiday season when it premiered in 2010 for a brief run at the same theater.
This theater image released by The Hartman Group shows Jordan Gelber, left, and Wayne Knight during a performance of the musical "Elf," in New
This theater image released by The Hartman Group shows Jordan Gelber, left, and Wayne Knight during a performance of the musical "Elf," in New York. (AP Photo/The Hartman Group, Joan Marcus)


The book, adapted by Tony Award winners Thomas Meehan ("The Producers," ''Hairspray") and Bob Martin ("The Drowsy Chaperone"), preserves many of the familiar punch lines you'll remember from Ferrell's hilarious 2003 film. Yet somehow this production doesn't have the feel of a show that was plucked from the screen and retrofitted for the stage.

Rather it plays like a faithful but fresh revival of a golden-age Broadway musical, with its artfully towering sets, large company and lush arrangements of traditionally jazzy songs by Matthew Sklar (music) and Chad Beguelin (lyrics).

Jordan Gelber ("Avenue Q," ''All My Sons") spreads a wealth of good cheer as the always-grinning, irresistibly likable Buddy, who as an infant, crawled unnoticed into Santa's sack and stowed away to the North Pole, where he was raised as one of the "big guy's" little helpers.

All grown up now, the not-so-little Buddy leaves the workshop on a quest to find his "human" family in New York, where Christmas spirit is in such short supply that the whole city has been naughty-listed. (Gasp!)

Gelber embodies the arresting appeal of Buddy's childlike innocence and charm, as he adjusts awkwardly and comically to life in the big city.

Striding into his dad's office, his first day in "human work clothes," he greets co-workers with his own brand of cheerful professionalism. "Good morning, Sarah. That's a nice purple dress," he says earnestly. "Very purplie."

Gelber follows Sebastian Arcelus, who was the first to adapt the role Ferrell made famous.

There's also a new Santa Claus. Two years ago, the role was played by "Cheers" star George Wendt. The current production deviates from the Norm, but maintains the sitcom flavor in casting a new man to fill the big red suit - Wayne Knight of "Seinfeld" fame.

The most important returning member of the 2010 production is its director Casey Nicholaw (Tony winner for "The Book of Mormon"), who also choreographs this slickly attractive spectacular.

Nicholaw teams with a who's-who of creative talent that includes the set design of David Rockwell ("Hairspray," ''Catch Me if You Can"), costumes by Gregg Barnes ("Follies," ''The Drowsy Chaperone") and lighting by Natasha Katz ("Once," ''The Coast of Utopia").

The result is a stocking-stuffing array of eye candy, fluid motion and vibrant color (with strong leanings toward red and green, of course).

Those expecting to laugh as much as they did at the movie won't be disappointed. What might come as a surprise is just how polished these songs and arrangements are, particularly the larger-than-life opening number at Santa's workshop and several scenes in a very strong second act.

Buddy clicks with an ensemble of supercool Santa impersonators on the bluesy, brassy "Nobody Cares About Santa Claus," a raucously fun song-and-dance in a Chinese restaurant.

In the role of the Buddy's stepmother, Beth Leavel shares one of the show's most rousing numbers in the wordy, breathless "There Is a Santa Claus," an upbeat duet with the elf's 12-year-old brother, played by impressive star-on-the-rise Mitchell Sink.

Leslie Kritzer ("Sondheim on Sondheim," ''A Catered Affair") is lovely as Jovie, Buddy's romantic interest, an attractive but sulky grinch of a girl who refuses to sing despite Buddy's prodding. Luckily for us, he ultimately succeeds when Krtizer reveals her stunning voice on the catchy swing tune "Never Fall In Love," which she sings under the stars and an enchanting elm tree illuminated in lights and hanging lanterns.

The return of "Elf," which is at the Hirschfeld through Jan. 6, is just the thing for the Christmas list of any kid or grown-up. There's no telling when we'll see Buddy again in New York, but one can only hope it's the beginning of a holiday tradition.

Online: www.elfmusical.com

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.