From the hideous leg lamp to the kid who gets his tongue stuck on a lamppost, most of the beloved elements of the holiday classic movie “A Christmas Story” will be in the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre's production.
“I didn't feel like we could try to put our own spin on it,” said Director Rosy Ridenour. “What people expect is what they see in the movie.”
The play, which opens this weekend, includes a two-story set.
The movie (1983) and play are based on a memoir of Jean Shepherd of Hammond, who also was the voice of the narrator in the movie. It's set in 1938 in a fictional town in northern Indiana. The story centers on Ralphie, a young boy who only wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas but is rebuked repeatedly by adults warning, “You'll shoot your eye out!”
Jason Collins, 12, plays Ralphie. He's a seventh-grade student at Canterbury School who has previous experience acting in Fort Wayne Youtheatre productions. He's familiar with the movie.
“We watch it every Christmas,” he said. “It never gets old.”
Collins said acting in the play is “a very big time commitment,” and this is probably the biggest role he's ever had. He manages to keep up with schoolwork despite the time he puts in rehearsing. He says the play is “pretty close” to the movie and describes it as “very relatable, very funny, very fun.”
Ralphie's “old man” was played memorably by the late Darren McGavin in the movie. Nol Beckley, a teacher at Northrop High School, plays Ralphie's dad in the Civic production.
“It is an iconic role,” Beckley said. “I just wanted to bring what I could bring to the role. “He (McGavin) defined the role. I'm just going to do my best.”
Because movie characters are so imbedded in the minds of many who have seen the movie, Ridenour said the challenge for actors was “not having someone mimic what they see in the movie.”
She said it was like drawing an outline and having the actors color it in with their own personality. “There has to be a warmth of character,” she said.
“We had open auditions,” Ridenour said, with “a lot of really wonderful people who auditioned.” Those in the play don't necessarily look like their counterparts in the movie, so the audience has to put the movie actors out of mind and let the actors on stage become the characters.
And because it's a live performance, there will be an element of surprise.
“If you want to see the same performance day after day with out any bumps or warts, rent the movie,” she said.
The show begins this weekend, and its run will be over before Thanksgiving, which Ridenour believes is perfect timing. If it seems to jump the holiday season, well, the Performing Arts Center also is home for the Fort Wayne Ballet's perennial holiday favorite “The Nutcracker,” which opens Nov. 30.
Asked why the “A Christmas Story” tale is so popular, Ridenour said, “I think it's almost like we're remembering our childhood.” Because it's set in northern Indiana, it may resonate even more with people from around here.
She also believes the story evokes memories of simpler Christmases of the past. The story is more about family togetherness than Christmas perfection.
Ridenour also sees a charm in Ralphie's coveting that BB gun, as compared with today's kids, who often want so many things they see advertised on TV.
“We've gotten away so much from the desire to have that one special toy,” she said, noting many of today's parents are overzealous in making sure their kids get everything they want.