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Arts and Entertainment

Little Theatre Revives Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story"

(Poster design courtesy Springfield Little Theatre)

Once again this holiday season Springfield Little Theatre at the Landers, 311 E. Walnut, is producing Phillip Grecian's stage adaptation of humorist Jean Shepherd's now-classic A Christmas Story, which first saw the light of day in 1983 as a theatrical movie.

Directing LT's production is the former Jessica Palmer, Little Theatre Education Specialist, and, since October 15, 2016, Jessica Bower.  She and LT Lighting Designer Jamie Bower tied the knot between his finishing up directing Of Mice and Men at the Landers and Jessica holding auditions for A Christmas Story. Jamie is playing the role of Ralphie Parker's father, "The Old Man," originated by Darrin McGavin in the movie.  He quips that marrying the director was his way of "getting cast in this show!" (And yes, he had to audition for the part just like anyone else.)

If you're a fan of the movie, which dominates cable network TBS's Christmas Day programming every year, director Jessica Bower promises that "all those moments that are in the film are in the (stage version): the car when the lug nuts get lost, the lamp post scene where Flick gets his tongue stuck to the (frozen) lamp post (they've made it a flagpole in this production), and of course the bunny suit that Ralphie gets to change into because it was his aunt's gift to him." And never fear, The Old Man's "leg lamp" is there too.

A Christmas Story was inspired by Jean Shepherd's boyhood in the Midwest in the 1940s, with 9-year-old Ralphie Parker representing Shepherd.  Playing Ralphie in Little Theatre's production is 14-year-old Joseph Bartkowiak (the "w" pronounced like a "v," in case you're wondering), an 8th grader at Reed Academy.  In addition to the movie, Joseph's first major exposure to A Christmas Story was one of LT's previous productions. And it was his inspiration to try acting: the current production, he says, is his 20th show at Little Theatre! Joseph quotes for us verbatim what Ralphie desperately wants for Christmas: "a legendary Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle." Of course, most of the adults in Ralphie's life--his mother, his teacher Miss Shields, the department-store Santa, and even his own friends and peers--are horrified: "You'll shoot your eye out!"  But, says Joseph, Ralphie is undeterred. "Nothing is going to really stop him.  If someone tries to stop him, he'll just push 'em aside and keep going."

Director Jessica Bower feels that "sometimes Ralphie finds himself in situations that he didn't necessarily mean to cause, and then all of a sudden he's the one to blame.  He's there with Flick when he sticks his tongue to the flag pole, and it's like, 'Ah, man! Another tally mark against me!' So he starts to feel like, as the play goes along, the world is sort of against him, when really everybody loves Ralphie.  But he's just one of those kids, he's kind of hard on himself, I think. But he really embodies the Christmas spirit... and fighting for what you want."

Jamie Bower chuckles even thinking about Ralphie's dad, The Old Man. "He's just a loveable, befuddled, goofy guy who just kind of does his thing and moves through life. It's just so fun to watch him go through all these different moments.  In the end, he's the one that eventually gives Ralphie the gun--much to (Ralphie's) mother's dismay! God love him, he just trips over himself so much." "He means well," adds Jessica, "but he chooses his battles sometimes unwisely, like even during breakfast, he's gotta fix the furnace!"

The cast of this revival of A Christmas Story also includes Bill Mimikos as adult Ralphie--in the original movie just a voiceover, but an actual character on-stage in the stage version; Jill Colony as the Mother; Greyson Buckner as Ralphie's brother Randy; Caroline Kelly as Miss Shields; Henry Herbert as Flick; and Miguel Gramley as Scut Farkas.

The production runs through December 11th at the Landers: Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00.  Before the two Saturday matinees the theater is offering a Pre -Party featuring "Cookies and Cocoa with Santa."  For ticket information call the Landers Theatre box office at 869-1334 or visit