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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Christmas Story is Twinklier the Second Time Around
5th Avenue Theatre

Also see David's review of Judy's Scary Little Christmas


Mark Jeffrey James Weber, Liz McCarthy and Cast
At Christmas 2010, Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre helped shepherd the stage version of the cult Christmas movie favorite A Christmas Story towards its eventual crowd-pleasing and Tony Award nominated Broadway success, and this season it is playing in numerous houses across the U.S. The show evolved a bit, and with Brandon Ivie's snappy and savvy direction and on-target casting it is a smashing holiday diversion.

The solid and sometimes savory musical score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul feels now somehow more in sync with Joseph Robinette's faithful adaption of the film screenplay based on humorist Jean Shepherd's book "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash" about young Ralphie, a 1940s Midwest pre-adolescent with an almost pathological obsession about getting a BB gun for Christmas (even though his mother and almost every adult he tells warns that he will "Shoot your eye out!"). The show brings in an audience that knows its every plot twist and turn, and yet it never feels like a faded print of the film.

The 5th's new Ralphie is the multi-talented and (multi-monikered) Mark Jeffrey James Weber, endearing, mildly obnoxious and caught up in the spirit of being the wildest kid gunslinger around. Brandon Oke steals as many scenes as he can manage as Ralphie's adorably annoying younger brother Randy. Jessica Skerritt is a radiant joy on her two featured songs, "What a Mother Does" and "Just Like That" (the best in the score), and creates a flesh and blood facsimile of all those endearing moms we used to watch on '50s TV sitcoms. Skerritt's real-life spouse Dane Stokinger is first rate as her quirky stage husband. Yes, he of course wins that lamp whose base is a garish gal's leg, and in fact the funniest production number "A Major Award" springs from that item's arrival, choreographed with old-time showbiz pizzazz as are the other production numbers by choreographer Mara Newbery.

Rounding out the adult cast in fine form are Liz McCarthy as Ralphie's schoolmarm nemesis Miss Shields (tapping her heart out in "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out"), Allen Fitzpatrick as a sourpuss Santa, and the wonderful Kurt Beattie as a grown Ralphie (aka Jean Shepherd) who narrates with the perfect blend of heart and humor. Some other stand-out kids in the cast include adorable Bryan Kinder (as Flick, whose tongue gets stuck on the freezing flagpole, triggering the number "A Sticky Situation"), Liam Laughlin, and Eliana Coe, but honestly, everyone onstage gives it their best happy holidays smiles and energy. Musical direction by Kat Sherrell is smooth as silk, and the goodly sized orchestra sounds great.

Walt Spangler's sets take us into a Saturday Evening Post living room, department store and other iconic imagery framed as if you are looking at vintage Christmas cards. Tom Sturge's lighting design is set to "warm glow" loveliness, and Elizabeth Hope Clancy's just right mid-20th century winter wear is right in sync.

A Christmas Story runs through December 30, 2014, at at the 5th Avenue Theater, 1308 Fifth Ave, downtown Seattle. For more information go to www.5thavenue.org.

Photo: Mark Kitaoka



- David Edward Hughes



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