Theater Review: Westside Christmas story is a gas

“When you’re a kid, you’re a kid all the way….”

“West Side Story” meets Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun in “A Christmas Westside Story,” the latest pop culture mash-up from the deliriously daft Troubadour Theatre Company, running through Jan. 15 at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank.

This anarchic troupe of clowns is known for mining comedic gold from inspired pairings of stage, TV and film classics with classic rock ’n’ roll. “As U2 Like It,” “Fleetwood Macbeth” and “It’s a Stevie Wonderful Life” are examples of past Troubie hilarity.

Here, the company, led by artistic director Matt Walker as “A Christmas Story’s” BB-gun-obsessed fourth-grader Ralphie, approximates a bit of Jerome Robbins’ iconic “West Side Story” choreography with surprising verve and gleefully tailors the equally iconic songs by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim to fit the 1940s-era holiday classic by humorist Jean Shepherd. Lines from the film are incorporated into the dialogue verbatim.

It’s a pretty gutsy effort. But pratfalls, somersaults and all manner of acrobatic physicality are part of the company’s signature style, and the actors prove up for choreographer Molly Alvarez’s crisp, Robbins-inspired, high-jumping, shoulder-hunching, finger-snapping, skirt-flapping dance numbers. The cast’s strong vocals are another plus. (At one point, sly ringmaster Walker, who also directs the show, does a wickedly spot-on Aaron Neville impression.)

The show, despite being a parody, would be far less successful without the cast’s serious commitment to this song-and-dance framework, and without the muscular, expert on-stage band (musical director Eric Heinly on drums, Kevin Stewart on bass, Linda Taylor on guitar and Brian Baker and Cameron Graves on keyboards).

It’s a hoot when Leah Sprecher as Ralphie’s mom sings “A Toy Like This (would shoot your eye out)” to the tune of “A Boy Like That,” her voice throbbing with passion, while mood lighting by veteran designer Jeremy Pivnick — who contributes mightily to the proceedings — enhances the melodrama.

Another highlight among many: When Ralphie’s friend Flick (Joseph Keane) is “triple dog dared” to touch his tongue to a winter-iced flag pole, it’s to the accompaniment of the cast’s rendition of “Boy, boy, crazy boy/Get cool, boy,” sung with insinuating menace.

Giving away all of the wacky connections made between one of theater’s greatest musicals and the beloved novelty holiday film would be unfair, however. A good part of the zany ride, after all, is the surprise factor in how “West Side Story” songs are adapted for “A Christmas Story” characters and situations.

What romantic duet will Ralphie and his very lovely fantasy personification of the Red Ryder Air Rifle (Katherine Malak) sing together? What anticipatory theme will Dad, aka the Old Man (Rick Batalla), belt out when he finally wins a sweepstakes contest?

And when that sweepstakes prize — the wildly inappropriate lamp shaped like a woman’s leg in a fishnet stocking — is embodied by gorgeous Monica Schneider, what self-reverential tune will she croon?

The mash-ups don’t stop there. Troubadour shows tend to be crafted as something of a play-within-a-play and peppered with headline news one-liners. Expect references to Obamacare, the Occupy Movement, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rod Blagojevich, among others.

Actors step out of character to razz the audience and each other: Why did Mom marry Dad, wonders Beth Kennedy as little brother Randy, when he’s bound to adlib “and add 20 minutes to the second act?” Sprecher to Walker’s dejected Ralphie: “Why don’t you go deliver an aside? That always makes you feel better.”

Brandon Breault as Ralphie’s nemesis Farkus and his sidekick Toady (Christine Lakin), meanwhile, stop the action to sit on the edge of the stage and address the audience, decrying bullying and smoking, respectively, in “The More You Know”-style public service announcements.

There are clunkers. Longtime Troubie ensemble member Kennedy has some slogging bits as Randy, while hyperkinetic Batalla’s adlibs are a laugh-out-loud hit and a groaning miss. What he does with a pair of stuck-on bushy eyebrows falls in the former category. His humorous impression of Marlon Brando as the Godfather wears out its welcome and lands in the latter.

But when jokes fall flat, the actors are unfazed. Because they not only plan for it, they clearly build it into the show. If applause is too tepid, or a random appearance by a giggling Tickle Me Elmo doll gets one of the biggest laughs of the night, they rush to highlight the failure and assign blame.

And beware: The Troubies love audience latecomers. Enter after the show has started and you may find yourself in the spotlight, stopping the show as you’re subjected to a group sing-along based on an aptly chosen 1970s pop song.

Kudos to costume designer Naomi Yoshida for Schneider’s sexy “Lampy” ensemble and her wardrobe re-creation of the film’s 1940s American wintertime setting, including Ralphie’s pink bunny pajamas and colorful housewife skirts and aprons. Mike Jespersen’s economic set design provides for band, group numbers and Santa slide, and sound designer Robert Arturo Ramirez’s well-timed audio miscues add to the sublime silliness.


What: “A Christmas Westside Story”

Where: Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank

When: 8 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 4 and 8 p.m. Sat., 4 and 7 p.m. Sun. (Show times can vary; confirm with box office or website.) Dark Sat.-next Sun.(Dec. 24-25), Dec. 31-Jan. 1. Ends Jan. 15.

Tickets and info: $34.50-$42. (818) 955-8101 and

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