And Away We Go, The Night Alive and A Christmas Story – The Musical

McNally dallies with actors, McPherson cheers the underdog, and Ralphie longs for a Red Ryder BB gun…again!

And Away We Go   (2 ½ stars)
The Night Alive   (4 ½ stars)
A Christmas Story – The Musical   (5 stars)

In his And Away We Go playwright Terrence McNally has written a valentine to actors everywhere.  He wants to celebrate them, encourage them and put what they do in both a historic and chronologic context.  And though moments in And Away We Go (which closed December 21) were delightful, as directed by Jack Cummings the resulting production was as frequently muddled as it was whimsical.  Blessed with a strong cast, including the invaluable Donna Lynne Champlin, Micah Stock, Rachel Botchan, Dominic Cuskern, Carol Schultz and Sean McNall, And Away We Go jumped around through theatrical time with stops in ancient Greece, The Globe, Versailles’s Royal Theater and Coral Gables, Florida, at the American premiere of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

Transported across the Atlantic from the Donmar Warehouse where it was a hit with both critics and audiences, Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive is a provocative study of a small handful of Dubliners barely getting by, the role fate and chance plays in their lives, and – wait for it – the cosmic implications of religion, time, space and death for all of us.  Amazingly, McPherson, whose earlier works include The Good Thief, The Lime Tree Bower, The Weir, The Dublin Carol, Port Authority, Shining City and The Seafarer (just to name a few), manages to deftly craft a portrait of humanity that leads to an ending open to multiple interpretations, both realistic, paranormal or existential, that will leave some audience members arguing about what is they’ve seen.  But perhaps that’s the way McPherson wants it.  In The Night Alive Tommy (Ciaran Hinds) finds himself in the banal, daily existence of taking care of his Uncle Maurice (Jim Norton) and his co-worker Doc (Michael McElhatton) when he stumbles upon Aimee (Caoilfhionn Dunne), a sometime prostitute who’s been beaten up by her psychotic boyfriend Kenneth (Brian Gleeson).  As Tommy and Aimee’s relationship grows, the dynamics between the other people in their lives shifts accordingly leading to revelations and introspection as only McPherson can conjure.  Blessed with a phenomenal cast and expert direction by its author, The Night Alive is a beautiful, sweet and poignant piece that will haunt those lucky enough to see it.

Though it’s being presented in a cavernous barn of a space, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s wonderful A Christmas Story – The Musical is back again this year and it’s a welcome return!  As hilarious as it is heartwarming, A Christmas Story took the theatre community by storm last season and garnered three Tony nominations, including Best Musical, at awards time.  Based on the wildly successful 1983 film that starred little Peter Billingsley (who’s now one of the musical’s producers) as Ralph and Darren McGavin as his father, A Christmas Story tells the story of 9-year old Ralphie’s quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas in 1940.  Smartly directed by John Rando with delightful choreography by Warren Carlyle, almost the entire original Broadway cast has returned for this year’s run at The Theater at Madison Square Garden including Dan Lauria as the narrator, John Bolton as The Old Man, Erin Dilly as Mother and the sensational Caroline O’Connor as Ralph’s teacher, Miss Shields.  Jack Lucas and Noah Baird are playing Ralph and his little brother Randy this time around and they’re utterly beguiling with strong singing voices and terrific comic timing.  Additionally, the tap-dancing phenomenon Luke Spring is back with his specialty dance (along with O’Connor) in the act-two showstopper, “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.”  Boasting a melodic and beautiful score, a timeless story and a superb cast, A Christmas Story – The Musical should set up shop in a legit Broadway house the whole year round.  It’s truly a show for the whole family that will leave you with a glow to last the entire holiday season.

The Night Alive plays through January 26 at the Atlantic (336 W 20th St, AtlanticTheater.org).  A Christmas Story – The Musical plays through December 29 at The Theater at Madison Square Garden (7th Ave & 32nd St, AChristmasStoryTheMusical.com).

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