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Steve Feeney

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Posted: December 9, 2014

A Christmas movie classic on the Portland Players stage: “A Christmas Story: The Musical”

Written by: Steve Feeney
Tommy Waltz, left, and William Pearson in the Portland Players production of “A Christmas Story: The Musical.”  Photo courtesy  Kristen Peters

Tommy Waltz, left, and William Pearson in the Portland Players production of “A Christmas Story: The Musical.” Photo courtesy Kristen Peters

Anyone who ever wanted a BB gun when they were young is probably familiar with the oft-quoted adult admonition about putting somebody’s eye out with it. A few may even now recognize that there was some merit to that argument.

The latest offering from the Portland Players revisits a time when it was so very cool to have this little weapon in one’s possession that elaborate campaigns were launched by youngsters intent on securing one for themselves, despite their parent’s concerns.

“A Christmas Story: The Musical,” which opened on Broadway in 2012, is based on the 1983 film formed from Jean Shepherd’s original writings. It recalls the story of a 9-year-old boy’s tenacious pursuit of a very specific brand of BB gun for his Christmas gift in 1940 Indiana. Catchy songs and good comedy, plus some warm family-style nostalgia make this production a winner among the latest crop of area holiday shows.

Middle-schooler William Pearson plays Ralphie, who dreams of feats of daring and adventure if only he can convince his parents to let him have the Red Rider air rifle he covets. “It All Comes Down to Christmas,” Ralphie sings with his parents, played by Tommy Waltz and Amy Torrey.

Pearson seems a theater natural, projecting a good singing voice throughout the hall and conveying both doubts and determination in non-verbal as well as vocal ways. His interaction with his younger brother, played by CJ Marenghi, a diminutive comedic force in his own right, were both credibly contentious and caring.

Clockwise from top:  Amy Torrey, Tommy Waltz, William Pearson, CJ Marenghi in the Portland Players production of “A Christmas Story: The Musical”  Photo courtesy Kristen Peters

Clockwise from top: Amy Torrey, Tommy Waltz, William Pearson, CJ Marenghi in the Portland Players production of “A Christmas Story: The Musical”
Photo courtesy Kristen Peters

Waltz and Torrey stood out during their featured numbers. The former was particularly dynamic and very funny during his celebration for winning a dubious contest prize. Torrey was maternally warm and comedically engaging as she sang both “What a Mother Does” and “Just Like That.”

Lucy B. Sullivan was a major riot as Ralphie’s teacher, fixated on maintaining the “margins” in her student’s essays. She also got to display some flashy tap dancing in one of the show’s several fantasy sequences. Peter Salsbury narrates as the adult Ralphie (Jean Shepherd) to contextualize some of the action and add some dry observations.

As directed by Michael Donovan, the two hour-including-intermission show zips along with hardly a slow spot as dozens of child and adult performers come and go around a quick-changing set-on-wheels, designed by Tim Baker, that smoothly moves the action from indoor to outdoor locations.

Live musical accompaniment under the direction of David Delano and period costumes by Michael Donovan and Louise Keezer appropriately further the theatrical cause. One quibble would be with some of the rather harsh spotlighting during a couple of solos. But that fault could not darken for long what is a fun show, fit for kids of all ages.

“A Christmas Story: The Musical”

WHERE: Portland Players, 420 Cottage Road, South Portland
REVIEWED: Dec. 7 (matinee); continues through Dec. 21
TICKETS: $15 to $20
CONTACT: 207-799-7337 or portlandplayers.org

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