Friday, December 12, 2014

Second visit from "A Christmas Story" - more fun and more funny! (and more Local)

The talented kids of A Christmas Story (Mark Kitaoka)

A Christmas Story
The 5th Avenue Theatre
Through December 30, 2014

A Christmas Story was fun for all when it debuted at The 5th Avenue Theatre in 2010, and then moved East to end up on Broadway. It apparently got a few tweaks along the way and the current “set” version (the way it probably will stay forever, now) is reprised at The 5th with an all local cast and a home-grown director. And it’s even more fun for all than before.

For those who don’t know, it’s a reverie about a Christmas long ago and a nine year old boy’s desire for a particular bb gun which all the adults in his life tell him will cause him to shoot his eye out. He schemes and plots with all his might and even tries to ask Scary Santa and thinks he’s failed. But this is a Christmas story.


As directed by Brandon Ivie, who worked on several (if not all) of the iterations from The 5th to New York, the humor is front and center and broadened and lengthened. Funny moments are amplified and silliness is encouraged. That tends to deflect any hints of cloying sweetness and also from the unfortunate focus of the story of a boy longing for a gun. Sure, it’s a bb gun, and that’s the story that led to the movie that led to the musical, but in this day and age, it can stick in the craw a bit. So humor is a great deflection.

We have such a deep bench of musical theater performers to choose from in Seattle! It’s pretty amazing. Ivie had his pick of top level performers and was able to choose married couple Dane Stokinger and Jessica Skerritt as Old Man and Mother. It’s so fun to see them on stage together, and their obvious chemistry and physical comfort is a great addition to the production.

Old Man is curmudgeonly and Mother’s obviously unruffled attitude shows the audience that we shouldn’t take him at all seriously when he grumps. Their young age is completely appropriate to that era’s parents

The warm presence of Kurt Beattie as the narrator (Jean Shepherd, because Jean wrote this story about himself as a boy), makes clear the reminiscence of the story. The crazy talent of the enormous horde of children in the show gives us a glimpse into what the area can expect from growing local talent in a few years.

Besides the talented young man, Mark Jeffrey James Weber, who plays Ralphie, the scene-stealer Brandon Oke plays his little brother Randy and his wriggling around in that abominable snow-suit, especially while dancing, is hysterical. Liam Loughridge and Bryan Kinder distinguish themselves as Schwartz and Flick. A bunch of kids do a sophisticated tap routine that brings down the house.

Liz McCarthy comes back from time off to sizzle as Miss Shields and I look forward to seeing more performances if she decides she’s ready to get back to stage work! Of course, Allen Fitzpatrick is Santa, though it’s impossible to tell who’s under that beard.

The production moves from funny moment to funny moment on a great snow set by Walt Spangler, gorgeous costumes from Elizabeth Hope Clancy, adorable dogs trained by William Berloni – all from the Broadway production, and choreography by Mara Newbery based on the original choreography of Warren Carlyle.

The orchestra, led by Kat Sherrell, sounds gorgeous, and the sound design by Justin Stasiw thankfully doesn’t overshadow the singing by over-modulating the music. (Also, we welcome Kat to town. Her bio suggests she’s moving here to work at The 5th!) The songs are a delight, from the big production numbers to the ballad from Mother soothing a nervous child.

I don’t know if a change in blocking happened for the Jean Shepherd narrator from the first 5th production to Broadway. In the current production, Jean follows the action around on stage and inserts himself into the action more. To me, that’s a small flaw, whether it was a local decision or follows one made for Broadway. Initially, Jean was separate from the reverie, at a desk somewhere with a microphone. I’d like that better. It feels awkward to have him wandering into his childhood memories so visibly. But, again, it’s a small quibble.

It’s a snow-globe of a production. A little jewel box of a Christmas gift. A hollday delight. It runs until December 30th which gives you time to get through the hustle of Christmas and maybe give the gift of a fun family show to friends who deserve a special event.


For more information, go to www.5thavenue.org or call 206-625-1900.