'A Christmas Story' is offbeat, on target

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Zac Ballard, Erin Dilly, Johnny Rave and John

Zac Ballard, Erin Dilly, Johnny Rave and John Bolton in "A Christmas Story, the Musical." Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

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This is called "A Christmas Story," not "The Christmas Story," so, parents, please take note. The musical based on the popular 1983 movie is neither candy-cane sweet nor sacred. In fact, not much is sacred in this droll, imaginative, definitely and a bit defiantly off-center tale of a 9-year-old bespectacled kid named Ralphie and a flawed but loving family in Indiana in the 1940s.

That is, 9-year-olds (and up) and their flawed, loving parents are probably the target audience for the newest addition to the holiday offerings, wickedly directed by John Rando ("Urinetown") with a clever and enjoyable score by newcomers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul ("Dogfight").

The humor is not so much politically incorrect as, well, politically retro and a little dark. This is childhood seen from the snails-and-puppy-dog-tail perspective, narrated as a memory play by the late radio personality Jean Shepherd (imbued with a comforting presence and a twinkly bizarre streak by Dan Lauria).

Ralphie, played with no-nonsense charm by Johnny Rabe, wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, a fixation that, despite the grown-ups' constant warning that "you'll shoot your eye out," can certainly be seen as a glorification of guns. His tightly wound father (an edgy-smart John Bolton) swears a lot, even if it does come out gobbledygook. Mother (a radiantly down-to-earth Erin Dilly) knows more about everything than she is supposed to say.

But how adorable, really, when Mother stuffs Ralphie's little brother (Zac Ballard) into a snowsuit that keeps toppling over, and how touching that her underachieving husband enters mail contests to prove himself, even when the "major award" is a lamp shaped like a girlie leg. Besides, the neighbor's two bloodhounds are perfect.

The set by Walt Spangler includes an enchanting breakaway gingerbread house, surrounded by curvy white frames, though the family Olds would never have the top down in the winter. Warren Carlyle's choreography keeps it childlike for the kids, except for the mob fantasy in the speak-easy, where tiny Luke Spring proves himself a tap wizard.

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I could live without the awful joke about Chinese accents, the blue joke about the bowling ball, the playground line "when you act like a fruit, you get crushed like a grape." Even if kids liked to talk like that, Broadway should not endorse it.


WHAT "A Christmas Story, the Musical"

WHERE Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St.

INFO $39-$159; 877-250-2929; achristmasstorythemusical.com


BOTTOM LINEIrreverent but loving

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