Brandon Ivie had no idea so much of his life would be devoted to Christmas, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Eastside native and Newport High School alum, has spent the last five years working on various iterations of the Broadway smash hit musical “A Christmas Story,” the story of young boy bound and determined to get a Red Rider carbine action BB gun as his present.
After serving as the shows casting director during its first production at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre in 2009, Ivie was hired as the assistant director when it began its Broadway tour.
Now he’s returned home to direct his own version of the show, which opens this month back where it all started at the 5th Avenue, and he couldn’t be more thrilled, he said.
“This is the perfect show for our Seattle talent pool,” Ivie said. “Broadway directors are always blown away by the talent of our kids, and our adult actors work perfectly as ensemble casts. This show has a lot of kooky characters that pop in and out of the show.”
Based on the life of radio legend Jean Shepherd, who wrote and narrated the 1983 film of the same name, and the book, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” the inspiration for both, follows Ralphie, a child in the 1940s who is trying to convince anyone and everyone the BB gun is the only gift for him this year.
Played by Mark Jeffrey James Weber, in his return to The 5th Avenue following his performance of Oliver Twist in “Oliver!” Weber had exactly what Ivie said he was looking for.
“The kids in this show are real, wide-eyed, honest kids,” he said. “They’re not glossy, they’re just really talented … there were so many good kids, it was hard to whittle them down.”
And while the show’s primary focus is Ralphie’s quest, Ivie said there’s a deeper, more meaningful story at the core of the movie and the musical.
“What I think is really lovely about the show is that it’s about family, and slowing down to appreciate the time we have with them,” Ivie said. “This show is really about a child trying to connect with his old man. In that way, this show is universal. Everyone can find something in this show to relate to their own holiday traditions. The themes are just as universal now as they were back then … they carry through generations.”
In order to convey the importance of the family dynamic in the show, Ivie said it was paramount he find the right man and woman to play Ralphie’s mom and old man. He didn’t have to look far, or for long, he said, turning to real life husband-and-wife duo Dane Stokinger and Jessica Skerritt.
“Finding the family group that was going to be most dynamic, Jessica and Dane already had that built in connection as a married couple … They’re honest, sincere, as opposed to slick and polished,” he said. “They’re real, heart of America people who also happen to be great singers and dancers.”
But Ivie isn’t the only Newport-grown talent performing in the show. Sarah Rose Davis, who attended the school at the same time as Ivie, was cast in the ensemble, playing various roles including one of Ralphie’s friend’s mother, and an angry minion elf during the scene at the mall when Ralphie goes to visit Santa.
Rose Davis said Ivie, like the show, has developed and matured. In his late teens and early twenties hosting various musical gigs, she said Ivie was more nervous, often bantering more than he needed. Now, he, his bantering, and the show are polished, streamlined, she said.
Instead of overdirecting, trying to control every moment, Ivie takes a relaxed approached, allowing the actors to develop the scene themselves, Rose Davis said.
“He lets the moment evolve,” she said. “He always makes it comfortable, and provides a good reference or image when he’s trying to describe what he’s going for. He helps us find the strength that’s already in us and stretches us to find new things we didn’t know we had.”
“A Christmas Story” opens Nov. 25, and runs through Dec. 30. Tickets start at $29. For more information visit www.5thavenue.org.