Christmas, cocktails, and Camelot– it’s sort of a theme, isn’t it…?! Here’s where to take the family after that big turkey dinner–and I’ll try to steer you clear of any more turkeys on stage.
Bring the family to this one: the Tony-nominated A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL now playing at the Citi Wang Theatre through December 8! It’s a sweet, funny holiday treat with a cast of kids and adults loaded with talent & charm! This is the musical based on radio humorist Jean Shepherd’s story of an Indiana family in the 1940’s and little Ralphie Parker who just wants an air rifle for Christmas–admittedly, a loaded subject these days. Depending on how you feel about less than heavy artillery in the hands of children, and some other minor offenses against our contemporary PC sensibilities, you’ll have a good time.

The show reprises most of its original cast: Dan Lauria (Lombardi, “The Wonder Years,” “Sullivan and Son”) as narrator Jean Shepherd, John Bolton (“Spamalot,” “Contact,” “Titanic,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Gossip Girl’) as the Old Man, Tony Award nominee Erin Dilly(Nice Work if You Can Get It, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) as Mother, and Caroline O’Connor(Chicago, Moulin Rouge) as school teacher Miss Shields who does a mean tap dance! In the role of Ralphie the boy with a hankering for a Red Ryder BB Gun, is Jake Lucas (“Newsies”)– charismatic, super cute and funny. All the signature moments are intact including the despised pink bunny outfit, and that flagpole/tongue-sticking caper.

But what the show really achieves is the poignant air of a simpler, sweeter time, when mom actually cooked, dad was a scary but lovable buffoon, and Santa was a certainty for everyone on Christmas Eve–without being sappy. The music and production numbers work, ALL the kids in the show are funny and talented, and there are real live dogs on stage!!! I thought I’d hate it. I loved it. And so did my mom.  Through DECEMBER 8 at the WANG!

Cocktail hourThen there’s THE COCKTAIL HOUR— which felt like an eon, over at The Huntington. A.R. Gurney’s autobiographical play within a play about wealthy WASP’s letting their hair down over cocktails. But what’s revealed is just not that, well, interesting– even when the eldest angst-ridden son John (James son-of-Sam Waterston) shows up with a play he’s written– about them. Of course, they take umbrage in between highballs and controlled fits of anger, when all the family secrets (and they don’t seem that earth shattering) come tumbling out– and providing, naturally, the perfect ending to the play. Both of them.

This is obviously very comfortable terrain for Gurney—he’s got the conventions of the milieu down: father in a vest, bloviating about tradition while embellishing the facts (a blustery Richard Poe), the deeper-than-she-seems mother (Maureen Anderman spot-on) in white blouse and full length, checked dirndl, barely managing “cook” in the kitchen while simmering a few surprises of her own. The rest of the cast is fine; it’s just that they’re all caught in the machinery of a plot too pat to ring true, and too tepid to get my blood up. You should have seen “the cocktail hour” at my house–we’re WIP-C’s (White Italian Polish Catholics). No cocktails– just drama.

Camelot_Press_12Which brings me to the unfortunate CAMELOT over at NEW REPERTORY THEATRE–unfortunate because the mostly splendid cast is trapped in an amateurish production that brought me back to HS. (Forgive me, Lauralton Hall). The wonderful singer/actors– Benjamin Evett as a powerful, touching King Arthur, Erica Spyres as the lovely Guenevere, Marc Koeck in his New Rep Debut as a handsome, silken-voiced Lancelot, and Nick Sulfaro as the excellent and foul Mordred–are backed by an out-of-tune oompah band that massacres Lerner and Loewe’s magnificent score. As for sets and costumes? The design team has concocted a Camelot set in that mystical place where medieval England meets Bollywood. All the ladies of the court appear to be wearing sparkly polyester headscarves over flour sacks, while padding around in plastic-soled Mary Janes. The sets are dreary, and Merlin is decked out like swamp thing.

The miracle is– that despite all the raggedy hems and cornball choreography, the message of Camelot  remained intact; in  the show’s climactic moments when that young boy (the adorable Dashiell Evett) runs up the aisle to spread the word,”that for one brief shining moment”…all was right (not might) with the world– it was.  Through December 22 at New Rep Theatre in Watertown.