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Justin Paul’s “Christmas Story” Lights Up Broadway

In high school, people said that Justin Paul should be on Broadway.

That’s common praise for talented teenagers.

Few get there. The obstacles are great: Cutthroat competition. Bad timing. The need to make an actual living long before the bright lights shine.

Justin Paul

Justin Paul is one of the few. And it took him less than a decade, from the day he left the Staples stage in 2003.

A Christmas Story, the Musical” — with music and lyrics by Justin and Benj Pasek, his collaborator ever since freshman year at the University of Michigan — opened last night at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater.

Based on the movie “A Christmas Story,” and the book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” it earned a strong review from the New York Times.

Christopher Isherwood wrote:

Mr. Pasek and Mr. Paul have provided a likable, perky score that duly translates all of the major episodes in the story into appropriate musical numbers: Ralphie and his brother, Randy (Zac Ballard), enduring the humiliations of the local bully; the licking-the-cold-flagpole scandal; the visit to a cranky department store Santa Claus. The finest song is probably “Just Like That,” a lament for the quick passing of the childhood years performed with tender care by Ms. Dilly.

But the sequences that make the children in the audience perk up and stop fidgeting are naturally the big dance numbers led by the smaller fry in the cast. “A Christmas Story” features a sizable group of young performers that makes the small band of orphans in “Annie” look positively skimpy. They are wonderfully showcased in a couple of fantasy numbers that are the highlights of each act, and are choreographed with invention by Warren Carlyle.

In “Ralphie to the Rescue!” the stage becomes a Wild West town where Ralphie, with his trusty Red Ryder in hand, saves various damsels in distress in the guise of a sharpshooting cowboy. And the tap extravaganza in which Mr. Spring so impressively acquits himself comes in the course of a loopy number that finds the kids in the cast portraying dapper gents and their dolls cavorting in a speakeasy in the 1930s. (It’s very “Bugsy Malone,” for those who remember that peculiar movie.)

Why Ralphie’s imagination should be fired by such imagery is not made clear, but I was too dazzled by that stage full of children making a joyful, metallic noise to care.

You’re welcome to your Red Ryder carbine action BB gun, Ralphie. What I want for Christmas is a pair of tap shoes.

“A Christmas Story, the Musical” runs through December 30.

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