In the spirit of not shooting your eye out, kid, Springfield Little Theatre invites you to their production of “A Christmas Story—The Musical,” based on the 1983 holiday movie favorite, which was based in turn on the stories of author/humorist/broadcaster Jean Shepherd. Dates are November 23-December 9 at the Landers Theatre, 311 E. Walnut. On “Arts News” we visited with director Chuck Rogers; Ryan Mattix, who plays “The Old Man” (aka Mr. Parker, Ralphie’s dad), and Chalmer Harper—himself a broadcaster locally at “The Wind” 88.3—in the role of “narrator/Jean Shepherd.”
Chuck mentions “1985” as the date the film came out—actually it was 1983. But he’s absolutely correct that two generations have grown up with “A Christmas Story” as their favorite holiday movie. “But what’s great about this relatively new property,” this stage version, which debuted in 2010-11, “is who wrote the music,” says Chuck Rogers. He’s referring to the Tony- and Oscar-winning team of Beni Pasek and Justin Paul, who, he notes, wrote “LaLa Land;” won a Tony for “Dear Evan Hansen,” currently on Broadway; “The Greatest Showman,” the musical film about P.T. Barnum; and much more. “They’ve become huge composers and lyricists. And the music for (‘Christmas Story’) is itself very exciting.”
Local theatre patrons may remember the national touring company of “A Christmas Story—The Musical” played at the Juanita K. Hammons Hall a while back. In fact, the national tour BEGAN here at Hammons Hall. But this new LT production is, of course, all local.
At least in the stage version, “The Old Man”, Ralphie’s dad with his pride and joy, the infamous leg lamp—or, as it’s described in the show, “the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window”—is really the lead character. Playing him is Ryan Mattix. “I like to describe him as a loveable grump. He likes things a certain way. He has a very difficult relationship with the neighbor’s dogs, which kinda gets him fired up. Actually a LOT of things get him fired up! It’s a very fun role to play, some big production numbers that the leg lamp is featured in. (The big number is called ‘Major Award, and it’s when the leg lamp arrives.) I think the character is a little more over-the-top than the movie version,” bringing out what Mattix likes to call “manic goofiness.”
The other major character is the narrator, who represents author Jean Shepherd’s voice—heard off-screen in the movie, but as Chalmer Harper says, in the stage version he’s not offstage more than two or three times throughout the show. “So I am out there and woven into the tapestry that is the entire musical. It’s really, really fun.” He’s heavily integrated into the stage action. “You start out with Jean Shepherd’s radio show in the heart of Manhattan.” He feels Shepherd, who died in 1999, was “a fantastic storyteller, and just a wonderful radio personality. He was even considered as a candidate for ‘The Tonight Show’” in the late 1950s. (Jack Paar got the job.) “Being on stage to relive all the memories is just a blast,” says Harper.
Keavan Coale, who plays Ralphie, is praised by director Chuck Rogers for doing “a great job of filling in, and reacting, to what Chalmer talks about. And it’s a wonderful product of having two characters on stage at the same time; we’ve staged it so they’re together quite a bit of the time. They even are dressed similarly. So the audience actually sees the show through several different pairs of eyes.”
The stage musical includes all the favorite bits from the movie—not just the leg lamp. The plot, of course, involves Ralphie plotting to get the holiday gift of his dreams: an official Red Ryder® Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle—complete with compass and sundial. (In real life that was actually the “Buck Jones” model, but never mind.) It’s the Swiss army knife of air rifles, and Ralphie wants one in the worst way... even though everyone else—his teacher, his mom, the department store Santa—disapprove in equally strong terms. The stage version, says Chuck Rogers, “does a great job of taking all of the iconic moments from the film and revolving a musical number around each of those moments.” (Yes, the freezing-flagpole triple-dog-dare is there too.)
Performances will be Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm, with Sunday matinees at 2:00pm and, starting Dec.1st, added Saturday 2:00pm matinees. Tickets range from $16-$27. For information call the Landers box office at 869-1334 or visit springfieldlittletheatre.org.