News Column

'A Christmas Story' plus music

November 14, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 14--"You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"

It's become a familiar holiday refrain each year as the Parker family makes its way into the living rooms across the country via the 1983 film, "A Christmas Story."

Next week, the beloved story based on the writings of Jean Shepard will come to life in Boston as "A Christmas Story, the Musical" premiers at the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre.

"A Christmas Story" tells the tale of 9-year-old Ralphie Parker, whose only Christmas wish is to become the proud owner of a Red Ryder BB Gun. The musical closely follows the plot line of the movie, including hilarious moments like the unveiling of the leg lamp and a triple-dog dare that ends with one boys' tongue attached to the flagpole.

Producing such a well-known story has its challenges, said Dan Lauria, who plays narrator Jean Shepard in the musical.

"We're never ahead of the audience. They know what's coming," he said.

In fact, Lauria said that many adults will yell out at the more famous points in the show, like when the box containing the leg lamp appears.

"There's almost a pride in spoiling it for their kids and showing that they know what's coming," he said.

But no surprises doesn't mean no joy -- far from it.

"Adults always come in with a chip on their shoulder, like 'What are you doing to my favorite movie?'" Lauria said. "But by the end they tell us how much they loved it."

Lauria attributes the movie and the musical's success to the writing and the storyline's wide-reaching appeal.

"It's the old art of storytelling," he said. "It's a universal story about a son trying to get approval from his father. It worked for the ancient Greeks, so why wouldn't it work for us?"

It's a story that Lauria, who has had a long acting career but is best known for playing the father on "The Wonder Years," knows well. He remembers the excitement leading up to Christmas with his own father, who was a truck driver.

"I'm from the era when you got one gift. You got your underwear and socks, but then one gift, and you usually knew what it was because Pop would say, 'What do you want for Christmas?'"

Lauria's present was usually sports-related.

"I was a jock," he said. "Pop always came through. You didn't ask for a lot because you knew it was a sacrifice, but he always came through."

Lauria personally knew Darren McGavin, who played Ralphie's grumpy-yet-loving father (the Old Man) in the movie. When "A Christmas Story" was originally released to a lukewarm reception, McGavin was frustrated.

"He said, 'This is a good little movie,'" Lauria recalled. "Of course afterward, it became a classic."

When asked the best part of starring in the show, Lauria said, The fact that I don't sing a note. If I did, no one would come."

In fact, when he told a friend that he had landed the staring role in a Broadway musical, she replied that she had just seen a pig fly by.

"I don't even sound good in the shower," he confessed.

Lucky, there is plenty of other musical talent to bring the show to life.

The score was written by Tony-Award-nominated composers and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The star-studded cast and crew is filled with Tony Award recipients and nominees, including director John Rando ("Urinetown") and Caroline O'Connor ("Chicago," "Moulin Rouge") as Ralphie's teacher, Miss Shields. Jake Lucas ("Newsies," "Far From Heaven") plays Ralphie.

The musical is back on tour this year after a successful 2012 Broadway run that broke box office records. "A Christmas Story, The Musical" will be showing at the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre Wednesday Nov. 20 through Sunday Dec. 8, with a total of 27 performances. For more information, visit www.citicenter.org.

If You Go What: "A Christmas Story, The Musical." Where: Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont St., Boston. When: Nov. 20 to Dec. 8; evening and matinee performances. How: Tickets $45 to $125 by visiting www.citicenter.org or calling 866-348-9738.

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(c)2013 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.)

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