By Ann Liguori
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Jean Shepherd revisited! A Christmas Story – The Musical should not be missed
The Holidays are officially upon us. Let the festivities continue! And although the Knicks and the Giants should put a smile on your face with their play of late, if you're looking for a show that delivers a winning outcome every time and assures fun for the entire family, I highly recommend you see A Christmas Story – The Musical, playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
The film, A Christmas Story, co-written and narrated in 1983 by Jean Shepherd, legendary WOR voice and iconic storyteller, holds a special place in my heart. In 1997, I had the opportunity to interview Shepherd on my show on WFAN. He had become sort of a recluse, years removed from his work and living on Sanibel Island in Florida. His accountant is a friend of mine and connected me to him. I had him on my show on WFAN for almost two hours as we talked about his passion for baseball, a variety of issues in sports, his legendary, multi-faceted career in radio, television, print and on stage, and we took calls from many of his loyal followers.
You can hear that classic interview in its entirety here:
The interview was the first he had done in years at the time and to my knowledge, one of the last, if not, the final interview. I remember how much attention the interview garnered back then based on his loyal fan base and those who yearned to hear his iconic voice and talent for story-telling. When the interview aired, I heard from many, from broadcaster Tom Snyder to Jerry Seinfeld, who has always said that Shepherd was his mentor. Shepherd passed in 1999, two years after he did the interview with me on WFAN.
So when I learned from PR maven Joe Favorito that A Christmas Story – The Musical is on Broadway through December 30, starring Dan Lauria as Jean Shepherd, I interviewed Dan about the show and went to see it. I too wondered how the seasonal film favorite could possibly be transformed into a Broadway musical!
And I was delightfully surprised with the result! The musical and dance numbers add spice to the classic story of Little Ralphie's obsession with getting a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Dan Lauria's narration ties the show together in one big Holiday present – his voice and acting are just right.
John Bolton is perfectly cast as Ralphie's father; Erin Dilly shines as Ralphie's mother and Johnny Rabe captures every essence of the 'Ralphie' character in addition to singing and moving on stage seamlessly.
Luke Spring, a nine-year-old performer, steals part of the show with a tap dancing sequence. The kid is amazing, even tapping on his toes!
Dan Lauria said he was recruited to play Jean Shepherd in the musical by Peter Billingsley, who played 'Ralphie' in the film, and who is one of the producers of the musical. Billingsley and actor Vince Vaughn are partners and Executive Producers of Sullivan and Sons, a TBS series in which Lauria is among the cast.
Lauria told me that he prepared for his role as Jean Shepherd by listening to his voice and remembering him from his youth. "Everyone in my generation knows that voice," says Lauria. "Growing up, it was a big thing for my Dad and me to listen to Jean Shepherd."
"What separates it from the movie are the dance numbers," explains Lauria. "John Rando, our Director, did such a great job. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote such a great score. The performers are so talented."
Ironically, Lauria says he can't sing a note. "I can't even sing in the shower. I go into the room and I'm the least talented person in the room," he jokes. "The cast is so talented!"
"It's not like Lombardi (the Broadway musical in which Lauria and Judith Light starred) where I could do his (Lombardi's) voice. That was easy to do. With Jean Shepherd, I can't quite do the voice that he uses because it's at a much slower pace than the musical. With the play moving at such a quick pace, you have to modulate your voice and the sound of your speaking with the speed of what's going on with the play."
Despite "the art of story-telling quickly evaporating, we have tried to keep that story-telling element in the play," Lauria says.
"I love to listen to Jean Shepherd's voice. I always compare Jean Shepherd to Dean Martin. Every time you hear his voice, you smile."
And I guarantee you will be smiling throughout the entire performance of 'A Christmas Story – the Musical.'
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