“It’s better than the movie.”
You’ve heard the refrain before, usually as a term of lament for a much beloved book subjected to a less than loving film adaptation.
But in this case — the intermission-time chatter between acts of “A Christmas Story, The Musical” —the statement was countlessly repeated as high praise for the stage adaptation of a holiday film classic.
Director Brandon Ivie, an Eastside native who worked on the musical’s development at 5th Avenue in 2010 and its successful run on Broadway, has returned to the Pacific Northwest for the official stage revival of a flawless spectacle of comedic brilliance and Christmas cheer.
While the show focuses mostly on Ralphie Parker (Mark Jeffrey James Weber) and his mission to convince his parents, The Old Man (Dane Stokinger) and Mother (Jessica Skerritt) by any means necessary that “a Red Ryder carbine action BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time,” really is the best Christmas present of all, the show is so much more.
Based loosely on the life of radio legend Jean Shepard, his book “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” and the iconic 1983 holiday movie of the same name, the show is a time capsule of what life was like in the 1940s, when children lived simpler lives and every American strived for the “nuclear family.”
Narrated by Jean Shepard (Kurt Beattie), each moment of the show draws the audience in further.
Using many of the same stage directions and the majority of the same set pieces as the Broadway production, you feel whisked away to each location including Santa’s haunt at Higbee’s, Ralphie’s school and the playground where they discover if a tongue truly will stick to the flagpole or Ralphie’s house and its faulty furnace.
When the Parker’s drive to pick out their tree and get a flat tire, the usage of half a car is cinematic and provides the perfect vehicle for one of the show’s pivotal moments.
Ivie’s vision plays big on the stage, yet invites the audience into each scene, especially the Parker home on Cleveland Street, with grandiose intimacy.
Even the smallest moments and exchanges on stage feel as if you’re living them alongside Ralphie and family.
Stokinger and Skerritt, a real-life married couple, play off one another as the parents with impeccable comedic timing. Throughout the show Skerritt gets to show off her vocal range, which seems to stretch the musical alphabet, and Stokinger’s footwork displaying his love of his “major award” is bigger than life.
The entire cast, children and adults, delivers each joke, whether verbal or physical, with perfect timing and execution.
Weber as Ralphie is ideal casting with his sense of ease on stage and transformative wonder. He personifies childhood in a way everyone should be able to relate to.
But it’s often Ralphie’s younger brother Randy (Brandon Oke) who steals the scene. Whether it’s his entrapment inside a cautious mother’s idea of what keeps him warm, his little piggie impression, or his innocence when he thinks his older brother is about to be killed after saying the worst of all curse words, “the big F – – -,” Oke is a star in the making, while Weber and the rest of the cast clearly already are.
“A Christmas Story, The Musical” plays through Dec. 30 at the 5th Avenue Theatre. Tickets, starting at $29, are available online at www.5thavenue.org or by phone at 206-625-1900.