My first foray into Christmas fare came rather early this year, when I headed down to Phoenix Theatre one afternoon in mid-September as they held children’s auditions for “A Christmas Story.” Kids filed in and out of the Little Theatre, where “A Christmas Story” director Pasha Yamotahari was heading up the open casting call for boys and girls to play characters from six to fourteen years old.
Children were asked to bring a resume plus headshot or photo, and to prepare a 30 second snippet of any Christmas song. Each was given what’s called a side, or portion of the script, to read during the audition – and had time to look it over before taking their turn. Eventually 11 boys and four girls were chosen for two children’s casts.
The cast of “A Christmas Story” at Phoenix Theatre also includes four adults – Harold Dixon (Narrator), Dion Johnson (Old Man), Emily Mulligan-Ferry (Miss Shields) and Debby Rosenthal (Mother). No double casting needed there since bedtimes and homework aren’t really an issue.
Cast members young and old earned high praise from folks who attended the Saturday matinee on opening weekend. I overheard one gentleman telling his wife “the kids are terrific.” Not knowing that the “cheesy” factor is part of what makes this show so fun, she told him it felt a bit overacted. “The whole thing is overplayed,” he replied, “that’s why it’s so good.”
“A Christmas Story” follows the pre-Christmas adventures of a fictional Midwestern family as Ralphie, one of two young sons, dreams of finding a BB gun under the tree. But his chances aren’t good, because Ralphie’s mother is convinced he’d shoot his eye out with the darn thing. The mom has her hands full with Ralphie’s singular obsession, a younger child’s many eccentricities and her husband’s laser-like focus on winning every contest pitched via U.S. Mail.
One day the father receives “a very important award” in the mail. It’s a lone leg covered in black fishnet hose – complete with light bulb and lamp shade. He proudly displays the leg lamp so it’s visible from the street, and assumes the nightly catcalls from passersby are meant to congratulate his achievement. What he’s supposedly achieved is never made clear. It’s all part of the gag that keeps audience members in stitches.
Phoenix Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Story” seems a good choice for family holiday entertainment. Younger family members will enjoy watching other children on stage, and older family members will enjoy the show’s nostalgic nod to secret decoder pins, giant erector sets, jumbo tins of car wax and characters like the Lone Ranger. Several families, including three generations of the Gardners from Surprise, looked like they were having a great time at Saturday’s matinee.
I hadn’t planned to see this – or any other Christmas shows this holiday season. There’s just too much happening in arts and culture outside of the holidays that I’m eager to experience. But I felt Saturday morning like seeing just this one show was somehow meant to be.
While buying something my daughter Jennifer had put on hold at Urban Outfitters, I stumbled onto Christmas fare bearing Ralphie’s mug and the lovely leg lamp. Later I spied an actual leg lamp at a Scottsdale museum dedicated to Arizona broadcasting. I headed home to snag one of the few remaining tickets for Saturday’s matinee – and I had a great time at the show.
Even if it does show a little too much leg.
Note: For a comprehensive list of holiday activities for families, consult the December calendar from Raising Arizona Kids Magazine. For news of a musical theater production of “A Christmas Story,” click here. To learn about the Cleveland house (now museum) used in the 1983 film “A Christmas Story,” click here. Click here for information on a special Dec. 13 performance (plus pre-show reception) benefiting Arizona Citizens for the Arts.
Coming up: Word power, Views beyond the Valley
Update: Mesa Encore Theatre is also performing “A Christmas Story” this season so now you can double the fun by seeing two productions. 11/28/11