I had a recent stroke of good fortune. My sister Pat bought tickets for “A Christmas Story” at the 5th Avenue Theatre for her three kids and three grandkids. Unfortunately, her granddaughter Madeleine had to work so I was invited to take her place. Whoo-Hoo! I’m sorry that she had to work, but I was delighted to go.
I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the 1983 movie based on a story/radio script that Jean Shepherd wrote about a boy who desperately wants an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle! If your family is anything like ours, you watched the marathon on a cable channel on Christmas Eve.
The production opens with a radio studio desk, a quartet of singers (including Candice Donehoo, and Jadd Davis and familiar performers Brandon O’Neill and Billie Wildrick,) and Shepherd (Frank Corrado) as the narrator. They open the show with the bing, bong, bing tones and sing ads.
The story concerns Ralphie Parker (Clarke Hallum) who schemes and drops hints to let everyone know his most-wanted-ever gift, without actually saying it. He puts a full page ad for the gun in his mother’s magazine. He tries to work it into conversations but Mom (Anne Allgood) and the Old Man (John Bolton) just don’t seem to get the hints.
All the fourth-graders have an assignment to write an essay for their teacher Miss Sheilds (Carol Swarbrick) entitled, “What I Want for Christmas”. He envisions Miss Sheilds so enraptured by his fluid, golden prose that she’ll tell his parents how wonderful he is and that he deserves a BB gun.
Unfortunately, whenever he does express his fervent desire, every adult, including his mother, Miss Sheilds and Santa Claus tells him, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
Shepherd’s prose is fluid and golden; his story flows as seemingly effortlessly as Ralphie’s life stumbles with its multitude of trials and tribulations.
One of his family trials is his younger brother Randy. Shepherd describes Randy as not having eaten a meal in three years and this exasperates his Ralphie to no end. Ralphie hates how his mother coerces Randy into eating and he’s not to fond of walking his little brother to school, especially in a snow suit that doesn’t allow the little boy to put his arms down.
A long-standing tribulation is the harassment by the yellow-eyed bully Scut Farkus (Ashton Herrild) and his green-teethed toady Grover Dill. The mean kids haunt the streets, torturing the kids on their way to school and back home by wrenching their arms behind their backs until they scream uncle. Ralphie does get his own back and it’s a classic.
The Old Man completes newspaper trivia quizzes every day. He receives notice that he has won an undisclosed “Major Award; this brings the family and neighbors to a fever pitch of excitement. The Old Man sings about being recognized as “The Genius on Cleveland Street . They are frantically guessing what the prize will be: big money? A trip to Europe ? A luxurious house in a prime location? WHAT???
When the giant wooden crate arrives, the Old Man is almost incoherent with excitement. He pries it open, throws all the excelsior out and uncovers a large lamp with a woman’s fishnet-stockinged curvaceous leg as the base. He is ecstatic and in love. Mom is appalled at the tasteless, tawdry thing. Ralphie feels the stirrings of sexual interest as he strokes the lamp leg. What will Mom do about this atrocity, proudly placed in the front window by the Old Man so all the neighbors can ogle or sneer at? She’ll take care of it later.
I really enjoyed the production number “A Major Award” with neighbors holding fishnet-stockinged lamps, accompanied by the kids holding smaller dresser lamps.
One of the funniest incidents occurs when the Parker family goes out to buy their Christmas tree. They pick out one at the tree lot, but while it’s being tied up, the Old Man sees that one of his tires has gone flat.
For the first time EVER, Mom sends Ralphie to help his dad. Ralphie is reluctant but enormously please to be asked. He holds the hubcap containing the lug nuts for the Old Man. The inevitable happens and Ralphie accidently flings the lug nuts into the snowy landscape. As they disappear, Ralphie says the F word. Shepherd expands, “I didn’t say fudge. I said the Queen Mother of dirty words.” The Parker parents are appalled; his mother demands, “Where did you hear that?!?” Put on the spot, Ralphie can’t say he heard it from his the lips of his dad. Daily, the Old Man is accompanied by a blue cloud of soot and profanity as he struggles daily with the recalcitrant furnace.
So, Ralphie flinging friendship to the winds of chance, blurts out the name of his best friend Flick Schwartz (River Aquirre). When the Parkers get home, Mom drags Ralphie to a chair and proceeds to wash his mouth out with a bar of soap.
Shepherd, as the older and more reflective Ralphie, muses on the mouth-feel and taste of various brands of soap available at the time. His favorite is Lux for its smooth flavor and nice aftertaste. The next most favored is Palmolive but the least liked of all the soaps is Lifebouy. (I wonder if Lava soap was available then. My dad used it to wash up with it after greasy jobs and it turns your hands to sandpaper.)
After getting the bar of soap in Ralphie’s mouth, Mom proceeds to call Mrs. Schwartz to tell her the shocking and odious word Slick taught Ralphie. The moms’ phone conversations are all just murmurs, except for the initial retort, “Probably from his father!”, followed by the next mother making a call to the another mother. Boys are seated all over the stage with a bar of soap in their mouths.
The Christmas turkey meal is the highlight of the day for the Old Man. When the back door is left open and the hillbilly neighbors’ hounds get in and eat the turkey, the Old Man could have cried with rage and disappointment. But he rises to the occasion, calls the boys to get their coats and takes the family out to a Chinese Christmas dinner. The waiters sing “Deck the Halls” with rs instead of ls and it’s genuinely funny.
The music and lyrics by Genj Pasek and Justin Paul are witty and appropriate. A cast CD is supposed to be available soon, according to the pink bunny-suited guy selling “A Christmas Story” merchandise in the lobby. I’d be interested to hear all the songs again. I usually buy a CD if there is one available.
“A Christmas Story” runs until December 30. It was pretty full, so I’d call the box office at 206.625.1900 and ask about tickets. Or you can go online to www.5thavenuetheatre.org for information or tickets.