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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 17, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 51
A Christmas Story a holiday gift
Arts & Entertainment
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A Christmas Story a holiday gift

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

A Christmas Story:
The Musical!
5th Avenue Theatre
Through December 30


The words 'You'll shoot your eye out!' resonate in the minds of children for two reasons. The first is that this deadly prophecy has been recited many times to every child for various reasons. The other is the most commonly quoted line from the beloved holiday film, A Christmas Story. Keeping with their tradition of presenting original musicals (they have produced five so far; two that have gone on to win Best Musical on Broadway), the 5th Avenue Theatre is doing their part for the holidays by presenting the classic movie as a new staged musical.

The year is 1970, and the audience is listening to (actually watching) a radio broadcast of the Jean Shepherd Show. With the help of radio sound effects and imagination, he retells a tale of Christmas in the 1940s, when a boy named Ralphie Parker was 10 years old and the only thing he wanted was a Red Ryder BB Gun. As the characters come to life, Ralphie seems to be able to express this wish to everyone except his parents. As the day grows closer, his quest and his desire for the one true gift grows greater. Along the way, he faces other challenges: His father, whose greatest concerns are keeping the neighbor's dogs away and fixing the 'flutter flooter' furnace. His mother's obstacle is getting the house running smoothly, and his friends are all trying to avoid a schoolhouse bully. Every chance he gets, Ralphie tries to express his desires for the BB gun only to hear the infamous phrase: 'You'll shoot your eye out!'

The boy Ralphie (Clarke Hallum) is the central character of both movie and stage production. His desires are something that everyone can identify with, even if they never celebrated Christmas in the 1940s. His enthusiasm is contagious - if not a little over the top - but he's not a ham; more like Canadian bacon. The performance is something to enjoy, and maybe even smile at as we recognize a bit of ourselves in his innocent delight and determination at the holiday gift he wants so badly. Ralphie's father (John Bolton) is the 'Old Man' who can fix anything with screaming unintelligible obscenities and amateur tinkering. Bolton adds a dimension to the Old Man that is not as cartoonish or befuddled as the movie's predecessor. His stern determination, whether right or wrong, is something that the audience smiles at, as we probably had a relative just like him.

Mother (Anne Allgood) is the most understated of the main characters. Her role is to take care of the house and those who live within. Her coaxing of the younger brother Randy (Matthew Lewis - incidentally, he unintentionally steals the scenes he's in) to eat his food 'like the piggies eat' is a wonderful piece of staging. Ms. Allgood brings the definition of nostalgic Americana to the stage that is needed to give this musical its stage legs, and she runs with it.

The other cast members all do a very good job, as well. The teacher (Carol Swarbrick) and the radio-show quartet (Jadd Davis, Candice Donehoo, Brandon O'Neill, and Billie Wildrick) are recognizable to Seattle theatergoers and give wonderful performances. Their characters and voices definitely add to the show, promoting the storyline instead of distracting. Even the children's performances are done well, lacking in schmaltz and the cuteness that kids often demand from the stage. Director Eric Rosen definitely did a great job of controlling the challenges that acting with children can often create.

Fans of the 1983 film will not be disappointed by the stage production - after all, Peter Billingsley (the original film's Ralphie) joined the production team. All the classic points are there, from the double-dog dare to the introduction of 'Chinese turkey.' The neighbor's hounds (recreated with sound effects) and the visit to Santa ('I like Santa') are both present, as is the now iconic pink bunny suit. The musical's songs (penned by wunderkind Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) only add to this delightful classic. The songs fit the time frame as well as being entertaining to the modern audience. If the 5th Avenue Theatre was trying to reinvent a new holiday classic, they did their job well.

Contact Eric Andrews-Katz at eric@sgn.org.

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