"I don't think there will be anybody that comes to the Rep that doesn't know the story."
That's from Jason Harper, the former familiar face on KATV, Ch. 7, and now lead performer for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre's upcoming holiday production of "A Christmas Story."
Harper is right, of course. The movie "A Christmas Story" was released in 1983 and, thanks to the magic of TV reruns, quickly became embedded in American Christmas culture.
The story of young Ralphie's dogged pursuit of a Red Ryder BB Gun despite all the warnings that he'll shoot his eye out is something practically every adult and child can understand. The film, set in Indiana in the 1940s and adapted from a short story collection by Jean Shepherd, is a perfect mixture of cynicism and sentiment about the Christmas season. It certainly doesn't hurt that it's one of the funniest Christmas movies out there.
For the Rep, which always schedules a big holiday show in December before Christmas, the name recognition of "A Christmas Story" was too appealing to pass up.
Cast members say there's very little difference between the stage play and the movie. Harper, who plays the character Ralph, says the way he'll play his role is perhaps the biggest change that audiences will notice.
"When you watch the movie, the whole story is told by a grown up Ralph. You only hear the voice in the movie and in the stage play I will be on stage the whole time. Ralph is the narrator but is literally in the action. When the mashed potatoes are flying in the kitchen and the tongue is stuck on the frozen flagpole, I am right there. That is probably the biggest change from the movie."
For the role of young Ralphie, director Nicole Capri selected Cole Ewing, a seventh-grader at Arkansas Baptist High School. Ewing is only 12 but has had roles in "Mr. Popper's Penguins" and other plays at the Arkansas Arts Center's Children's Theatre. Ewing has also taken part in Capri's popular Summer Music Theatre Intensive program.
Ewing says that as soon as he found out he was getting the role that he watched "A Christmas Story" several times with his father. Ewing's answer for what part of his big role he is looking forward to playing the most is a surprise.
"I might embarrass myself but I am really looking forward to wearing the bunny suit," Ewing said.
Though Ewing's character will be aiming to get that "official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time" night after night, Ewing is wishing for an altogether different, modern Christmas gift.
"I want an Xbox."
"A Christmas Story"
Arkansas Repertory Theatre
Performances: Friday, Dec. 3, through Sunday, Dec. 26, with performances 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and 2 p.m. Sunday. A preview performance on Thursday, Dec. 2, will follow a pre-show discussion with director Nicole Capri at 6:15 p.m.