The leg lamp; the tongue frozen to a flagpole; the fuzzy pink bunny suit; "fra-gee-lay." All of the most beloved gags from the holiday film favorite "A Christmas Story" are preserved in its recent musical adaptation (book by Joseph Robinette; music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), currently a jolly production by Palo Alto Players.
A Christmas show already? Yes, this production opened in early November. Look, I'm a Scoprio. I want to revel in autumn, not usher winter in early. Around the Lucie Stern Theatre this weekend, homes were still bearing Halloween decorations. I loathe the commercialized creeping in of "the holidays" before December, much less Thanksgiving. All that autumnal grinching to say, despite it being too early, I still left the show with a smile on my face and a cozy holiday feeling in my heart.
"A Christmas Story, The Musical" follows the plot and structure of the film fairly faithfully, framed by a narrator (Shawn Bender) reminiscing about one Christmas back in 1940, when he was "wimpy" 9-year-old Ralphie Parker (Joshua Parecki). Ralphie lives with his little brother Randy (Antonio Elias), his frustrated but hopeful father (Michael Rhone) and his patient, practical mother (Gwyneth Price Panos) in snowy Hohman, Indiana. This Christmas, Ralphie is desperately wishing for a Red Ryder BB gun (times were simpler then), only to be told repeatedly by the adults around him that he'll shoot his eye out. Ralphie embarks on a variety of schemes to make sure everyone is aware of his wish, including trying to impress his weary teacher, Miss Shields (Juliet Green), begging a disgruntled department-store Santa Claus (Joey McDaniel) and fantasizing about what a hero he'd be if only he had that coveted air rifle.
Meanwhile, his Old Man, worn out from his constant battles with the hounds next door and his frequently breaking-down furnace and Oldsmobile, gets the thrill of this life when he receives a "major award" from a puzzle contest: a plastic lamp shaped like a woman's leg in a high heel and fishnet stocking. His long-suffering wife is less than thrilled when he puts it in place of honor in the living-room window.
These and other comedic anecdotes make up a "A Christmas Story," which serves as a slightly twisted Normal Rockwell painting come to life; a nostalgia-filled ode to Midwestern, middle-American childhood back before the baby boom.
Director Janie Scott guides the kid-friendly production with high energy and high spirits. Scenic design by Patrick Klein is nicely evocative of small-town 1940s America, as are the beautiful, colorful costumes by Naomi Arnst -- I coveted all of the winter wear. A few missed microphone cues did distract at a recent matinee, but nothing major.
Pasek and Paul -- a now-superstar team responsible for stage and screen musical hits including "Dear Evan Hansen," "La La Land" and "The Greatest Showman" -- have provided an enjoyable, period-appropriate score full of jazz-tinged and old-fashioned showtunes. Palo Alto Players' orchestra, led by Amanda Ku, sounds full and offers musical sound effects to set off the many humorous moments.
Bender is pitch perfect as the droll adult Ralphie and Parecki is great as his younger self (he's one of a number of talented local kids in the 27-person cast). Rhone is a standout in the role of The Old Man, gleefully hamming, crooning and dancing in numbers such as "The Genius of Cleveland Street" and "A Major Award." It's hard to imagine Ralphie and Randy ever being afraid of such a loveably buffoonish father.
Unfortunately, Panos seemed to be on the verge of losing her pretty voice at the end of opening weekend, but she valiantly fought through the hoarseness to hit her notes. Her Mother is the loving heart of the production.
Green gets her well-earned moment in the spotlight with the vampy "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out," accompanied by some jaunty tap dancing. Superfluous? Some may say so but to me, there's never such a thing as too much tap.
If you're eager to usher in the holiday season (or even, like me, reluctant), Palo Alto Players' "A Christmas Story, The Musical" is a wholesome, silly treat for all ages. Bundle up the kids (not too tightly, mom) and head on down to Lucie Stern.
What: "A Christmas Story, The Musical."
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.
When: Through Nov. 24.
Info: Palo Alto Players.