‘Christmas Story’ hits all the right notes

  • By Jon Bauer Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, December 10, 2014 4:16pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Familiarity breeds, if not contempt, disinterest. Which is why it’s hard to get too excited about another cable channel marathon of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” or “A Christmas Story.”

The 1983 movie is a funny and charming remembrance of 1950s era radio host Jean Shepherd’s recollections of Christmas as a boy in his Indiana hometown. But with annual marathons playing in the background on Christmas Day, lines like “You’ll shoot your eye out,” can get a little repetitive. Although some fans — my mother included — would probably look for a bar of Lifebuoy to wash my mouth out with upon hearing any criticism of the movie.

Luckily, The 5th Avenue Theatre has brought back its adaptation of “A Christmas Story: The Musical” for the holidays. The musical, which premiered at The 5th Avenue in 2010 before breaking onto Broadway and earning three Tony nominations in 2012, takes the best bits of the movie and weaves its story around music and dance numbers.

With a movie so beloved, stage actors tread dangerous ground recreating characters first portrayed by Peter Billingsley as Ralphie, the boy who longs for a “Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun,” Melinda Dillon as a mother who struggles to suppress laughter over her sons’ misbehavior and Darren McGavin as The Old Man, who can make a string of the most innocuous words sound like the foulest language.

But The 5th Avenue cast is the equal of the movie crew, with Mark Jeffery James Weber as Ralphie, Jessica Skerritt as the mother, Dane Stokinger as The Old Man, Brandon Oke as Ralphie’s younger brother, Randy, and narration by Kurt Beattie, who recreates Shepherd’s expressive Midwestern radio voice.

It’s Ralphie’s story as Mark portrays his quest to subtly convince his parents of his desperate need for the BB gun to be under the Christmas tree. It’s amusing enough in the movie, but here the young actor brings Ralphie’s imagination to life with song and dance numbers where he and his trusty BB gun chase off Old West bad guys and gangsters.

Brandon Oke, 10, who attends Everett’s Penny Creek Elementary School, has his moments at center stage, too, displaying a veteran’s talent for physical comedy, first while he and Skerritt struggle to get his snowsuit on and later when a slip on the ice leaves him like a turtle turned on its shell.

I wasn’t humming any of the shows tune as I left the theater, but the music, among all the raucous dance numbers, provides a couple of pleasant quieter moments in the second act.

Skerritt sings “Just Like That” with the emotion of a young mother realizing her children are growing quickly. And audiences also might notice a catch in their throats as Mark and Brandon, singing “Before the Old Man Comes Home,” wonder how they might patch things up between their folks after a fight.

But the music is mostly there to be danced to in numbers like “Ralphie to the Rescue” and “A Major Award,” in which the fishnet-stockinged legs outnumber the dancers. The Old Man’s joy over winning a crossword contest and receiving a leg-shaped lamp in a box marked with the Italian word, “fra-gee-lee,” dissolves from the Indiana home into a Rockettes-style chorus show with a line of leg lamps and legs kicking in unison.

Some special recognition is due the children’s chorus, who display great singing talent and even a knack for tap dance.

“A Christmas Story: The Musical” manages not to gloss over any of the movie’s beloved lines or scenes. I wondered at the end of the first half how it was all going to get in — the pink bunny suit, the frozen flag pole, Santa’s demonic slide and the Chinese dinner — especially with the addition of song and dance, but at the end I noticed nothing missing. Before the show, my mother wondered how they would manage the neighbors’ dogs, who are crucial to a late scene. But even the two dogs, Pete and Lily, galumphed on and off stage on cue.

It wouldn’t be possible to see the musical version as often as you might the movie version, and maybe that’s as it should be. See the musical and it will remain a fond holiday memory, untainted by repetition.

Go ahead: Open before Christmas

“A Christmas Story, The Musical” plays through Dec. 30 at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle. Tickets, starting at $29, are available online at www.5thavenue.org or by phone at 206-625-1900. To read more about Everett’s Brandon Oke, go here.

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