There's no earthly reason why the 1983 cult classic "A Christmas Story" should comfortably converge with Robert Wise's Best Picture tuner of 1961, but go figure: "A Christmas Westside Story" is one of the cleverest efforts in their 10-year history.
When the Troubadours, LA’s resident vaudeville ensemble at Burbank’s Falcon, blend the right source material with the right songbook, their alchemy can’t be beat for sheer zaniness. There’s no earthly reason why the 1983 cult classic “A Christmas Story” should comfortably converge with Robert Wise’s Best Picture tuner of 1961, but go figure: “A Christmas Westside Story” is one of the cleverest efforts in their 10-year history. Helmer Matt Walker (who also essays Ralphie, excellently) cranks out a new Yuletide attraction annually, but this one has enough piney scent to establish itself as an evergreen perennial.
If you know either the Jean Shepherd-inspired pic or the Jets/Sharks tuner – and everybody right down to the late Osama Bin Laden probably falls into one of those two categories – references will be easy to grasp. No memory of Darren McGavin is necessary to appreciate Rick Batalla’s inspired harrumphery as Ralphie’s Old Man; you need never have enjoyed Natalie Wood’s “I Feel Pretty” to howl as Monica Schneider’s female-gam lamp (here called “Lampy”) becomes pretty and witty and bright.
As it happens, little Ralphie’s pining for a Daisy BB rifle offers a darn good analogue to Tony’s longing for Maria. So the Troubies slay you when Ralphie’s mom (winning Leah Sprecher) warns “A toy like that/Will shoot your eye out.” And when the gun comes alive in the fetching form of Katherine Malak, Walker croons a love song to the tune of “Maria” and slays you all over again.
Wittily inserting Jerome Robbins moves, choreographer Molly Alvarez translates “Cool” into a scorching hot “Triple Dog Dare Ya” routine leading up to the legendary moment when boy tongue meets metal flagpole (Joseph Keane’s Flick is immensely appealing). Only the takeoff on “Gee, Officer Krupke” falls flat, because no one’s really established a reason for it to be sung.
Through it all, musical director Eric Heinly performs a Christmas miracle in bringing not just Leonard Bernstein’s melodies, but also echoes of the famous orchestrations, to the Falcon’s stage.
Because the narrative is so tight, the company can afford to put story occasionally on hold to taunt latecomers, provide lap dances to customers and generally mock its own Hellzapoppin aesthetic. They even find time for the fabulous Christine Lakin to wax rueful on how underused she is this time around (which, alas, she is).
Meanwhile, translating kid brother Randy into an Aspergerian genius allows Beth Kennedy to silkily, effortlessly walk off with every scene she’s in. The absence of her “Winter Warlock” character, a mainstay of numerous Troubie shows, is felt (if memory serves, he even showed up at “The First Jo-El,” when Billy Joel met Bethlehem). But as Shepherd himself knew well, Santa never brings you everything you wish for.