Nostalgia can be a powerful force. It not only drives the storyline in the classic movie “A Christmas Story,” but it’s also the reason so many people watch the film on television annually.
In fact, “A Christmas Story” is such a slice of Americana it received the ultimate distinction in 2012 when the film was included in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
The comedy is based on humorist Jean Shepherd’s semiautobiographical stories of growing up in middle-class Indiana. The Academy of Performing Arts is performing the 2000 dramatic version of the 1983 movie, not to be confused with the 2012 musical version. The play has all of the beloved elements of the motion picture, with the added benefit of an on-stage narrator spouting even more of Shepherd’s many witticisms and verbose insights from his book “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” which much of the movie is based on.
Set in the 1940s, Alex Ferrer plays Ralph, the narrator who reflects upon the long-ago Christmas he was obsessed with getting “an official Red Ryder Carbine Action Two Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle!” Ferrer is the backbone of the show, self-assuredly moving the action forward while interjecting during and between scenes to add nuance or descriptive backstory. He also fills in with smaller roles, like giving advice to Ralphie as a swaggering cowboy, during a dream sequence.
Jefferson C. Post and Allison Collins are Ralphie’s father and mother. They impressively conjure up the two beloved characters with their spot-on intonations and physical reactions. Post comically wrestles with their monster of a furnace off-stage, muttering his frustrations, as the narrator describes — “My old man worked in profanity the way the artist worked in oils or clay.” Collins patiently encourages their younger son Randy, the picky eater, by sweetly asking him “What do piggies say?” before he delightfully sticks his whole face into a plate of food.
Mac Collins is Ralphie, who visibly dreads the constant rebuttal and running joke of “You’ll shoot your eye out!” whenever he shares his Christmas wish for the Red Ryder air rifle.
As Randy, Julien Lajoie gets many laughs from the audience whenever he is stuck inside his overstuffed red snowsuit and whines, “I can’t put my arms down” and “I gotta go wee wee.”
Ralph’s exasperated teacher is humorously played by Kathy Hamilton, who insists to no avail the students keep their essays inside the margin.
Playing Ralphie’s best friends are Connor Pike as Flick, who is constantly bullied by the over-sized Scut Farkas (Kai Rotcovich), while Charlie Stroh is Schwartz, who gives Flick the dreaded “triple-dog dare” to put his tongue on the school’s sub-zero metal flagpole during recess. Fellow students, portrayed by Emma Blackenship and Jazzie Silva, flee with everyone else when Flick’s tongue immediately becomes glued to the pole.
The two-story set mirrors the simplicity of earlier times with Ellen Birmingham’s whimsical projection design for wallpaper, windows, and room dividers.
Director Peter Earle, with assistance from Peter Milsky, endearingly plays up the two-hour comedy’s many nostalgic moments.
The APA’s “A Christmas Story” is an enjoyably different way to take in this beloved tradition that wistfully romanticizes everything from bitterly cold, snow-laden winters to the childhood thrill of Christmas-morning present opening.
“A Christmas Story: the Musical”
At the Academy of Performing Arts, 120 Main St., Orleans
Through Dec. 30
Information and reservations: 508-255-1963