A CHRISTMAS STORY

Sierra Madre Playhouse has one terrific Christmas gift in store for you this holiday season, Philip Grecian’s lovingly recreated stage adaptation of the MGM holiday classic A Christmas Story, directed with equal parts love, imagination, and care by Christian Lebano.

Like the 1983 cinematic perennial on which it is based, Grecian’s two-acter introduces us to characters made famous decades earlier by humorous Jean Shepherd.

First and foremost, there’s Ralphie Parker (Julian Moser), aged-up from nine to twelve-going-on-thirteen at Sierra Madre but still dreaming of finding a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle BB gun under the tree on December 25

There’s also Ralphie’s kid brother Randy (Marshall Gluck), bundled up against the winter chill like nobody’s business; his best besties Schwartz (Myles Hutchinson) and Flick (Jude Gomez), the latter of whose tongue has an unfortunate triple-dog-dare-you encounter with a frozen flag pole; the bully who makes their life a living heck (Summer Ruyle as yellow-eyed Scut Farkas), and female classmates Helen (Daisy Koprowski) and Esther Jane (Xochitl Gomez-Deines), the latter of whom gets promoted from movie bit player to theatrical love interest this time round.

Meanwhile in the Parker Home, “The Old Man” (Richard Van Slyke) rages about the family furnace, battles neighborhood hounds, and exults when informed he’s won a leg-lampy “major award” while “Mother” (Andrea Stradling) does her best to support her irascible spouse, give her boys maternal love and guidance, and get Randy to eat his meatloaf, even if it means doing it piggy-style.

At school, Miss Shields (Karyn O’Bryant) still does her best to control her rambunctious pupils, believes that “guilt is far worse than any punishment,” and insists on proper margins in the “themes” she assigns.

Grecian’s script (based on both Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark’s screenplay and Shepherd’s novel In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash) manages to include virtually every one of the bits that have made A Christmas Story a holiday tradition—the night an accidentally foul-mothed Ralphie ended up with a bar of Lifebuoy in his mouth, the “secret message” revealed by Ralphie’s Little Orphan Annie Decoder Pin, the “What I Want For Christmas” theme that Ralphie is certain will score an A+++, and a bunch of hilarious fantasy sequences showcasing Lebano’s directorial ingenuity.

It does take a while to get used to a Ralphie whose voice has already changed (and I never did quite accept that an almost-teen would still freeze up when asking Santa to grant his wish, let alone ask in the first place), but Moser is so darned winning and confident a performer, his Ralphie will have you cheering. (TV casting directors should take note.)

As for Adult Ralphie, promoted from voiceover to major player in Grecians memory play, Jackson Kendall not only narrates with abundant charisma and charm but steps in when other adult characters are needed. (That side-by-side Kendall and Moser could easily be family is icing on the Christmas cake).

Van Slyke’s ever fuming Old Man and Stradling’s ever patient Mother are the two SoCal favorites as their accustomed best, and O’Bryant is a hoot as a schoolmarmy Miss Shields and a decidedly grouchy Elf.

Gluck (an adorably quirky Randy), Gomez, Gomez-Daines, Hutchinson, Koplowski, and Ruyle perform their iconic roles like seasoned pros.

A Christmas Story looks sensational on Charles Erven’s cleverly designed two-story set (meticulously appointed by Emily Hopfauf and Esther Fuentes), with Shon LeBlanc costuming Ralphie et al to early-‘40s perfection and Derek Jones lighting set, props, and costumes with subtlety and pizzazz, and it sounds just as great thanks to Christopher Moscatiello’s supremely detailed effects mix.

Kudos too to fight director Ken Merckx for Ralphie and Scud’s fisticuffs and to decorative painter Orlando de la Paz and his scenic painting team. Lebano, Barry Schwam, and Kirk Smith provide prerecorded voices.

A Christmas Story is produced by Estelle Campbell and Lebano. Page de la Harpe is assistant director. Kelsey O’Keeffe is production stage manager, Kristin Bolinski is stage manager, and Hopfauf is assistant stage manager. Jennifer Kwan is assistant lighting designer. Owen Lewis is production manager and Todd McCraw is technical director.

Whether you’ve seen A Christmas Story so many times you can recite its script word for word, or you’ve somehow managed never to catch it on video or DVD or in its 24-hour TNT marathon each year from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, Sierra Madre Playhouse’s live-on-stage rendition offers multiple holiday delights to fans and newbies alike.

Note: Miss Shields and all children’s roles are double-cast.

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Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre.
www.sierramadreplayhouse.org

–Steven Stanley
December 21, 2017
Photos: Gina Long

 

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